The first Jewish settlers began arriving soon after Kansas Territory was established in 1854. Two early arrivals were August Bondi and Theodore Wiener, who were members of John Brown's Free-Soil army and also fought in the Civil War. The state's first Jewish cemetery was the Mt. Zion Cemetery Association, founded in Leavenworth in 1857. That city was also the site of the state's earliest congregation, B'nai Jeshurun, which was formed in 1859. An Orthodox congregation, Beth Jacob, was organized much later. The second congregation to be formed in Kansas was Emanu-El, of Wichita, in 1885. The first rabbi, Bernard Cantor, was killed in 1920 while serving as a representative of the Joint Distribution Committee in the Ukraine. An Orthodox congregation, Ahavath Achim, was organized in 1913. The I. Goldsmith Memorial Library, containing the largest collection of Judaica in Kansas, was located in Wichita. It was named after Ike Goldsmith, who opened the city's first bookstore and was one of the founders of Temple Emanu-El. There were many unsuccessful Jewish agricultural colonies, the most important of which was Beersheba, established in 1882 by Isaac Mayer Wise. Other colonies, such as Lasker, Montefiore, Gilead, Touro, Leeser, and Hebron also failed. The settlers returned to the East, moved on to Colorado, or joined other settlements. By 1890 Kansas contained six Jewish congregations, with a membership of 486. Between that date and 1905 only one more was formed, Ohev Shalom in Kansas City. In 1917 the Jewish Community Center of Kansas City, Kansas first opened its doors. In 1924 Congregation Beth Shalom was organized in Topeka, and the city of Hutchinson later built a Jewish center. Many Jews were scattered among the smaller Kansas communities, where often there was not a sufficient number to organize a congregation. There are old Jewish cemeteries in Atchinson, Fort Scott, and Eudora, indicating that these towns once had Jewish communities, which have since disappeared. The Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation was created in 1935 to unify the Jewish population of south-central Kansas. In 1959 came the establishment of The Jewish Community Foundation of Kansas City, Kansas, which provides education and charitable contributions as well as caring for urgent economic needs of the community. The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle was founded in 1920 to provide the Jews of Kansas City, Kansas, and Missouri with news on their community. In recent years the Jewish population of Kansas has greatly diminished, mainly because young people attend colleges in areas of larger Jewish population, and do not return to Kansas. Still, both major universities in the state, the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, maintain Hillel houses that help their student populations to live a Jewish life on campus and offer courses in Jewish Studies. Several Kansas Jews have distinguished themselves in public life, such as Adolph Gluck, mayor of Dodge City; Sol Kohn, mayor of Wichita; and B.I. Litovich, president of the Kansas Bar Association. Kansas Jews are served by Topeka-Lawrence Jewish Federation and the Mid-Kansas Jewish Welfare Federation. Dan Glickman was a U.S. congressman representing Wichita and later the first Jewish secretary of agriculture. Senator Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania was born in Kansas and was a descendant of Jewish farmers.
As of 2013, Kansas's Jewish population was approximately 17,775 people.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.