New York State is an eastern state of the U.S., bounded on the north and west by the St. Lawrence Seaway, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie, and at the southern tip, by the Atlantic Ocean. Of its 18,990,000 inhabitants, about 1,761,020 are Jews (down from 2,522,000 Jews in 1969).
In 1654, 23 Spanish Portuguese Jews, refugees from the Inquisition, arrived in New Amsterdam ( New York after 1664) from Recife, Brazil, and founded the first permanent Jewish settlement in North America. They stayed in part because they had no choice: they were without resources. When Peter Stuyvesant asked the Dutch West Indies Company what to do with the refugees, Jews who were part of the company in Amsterdam were influential enough to provide for them to stay. While the tiny community did not thrive at first, one of its leaders, Asser Levy , by 1658 had real-estate holdings as far north as Albany, and in 1678 Jacob de Lucena was trading in Kingston, up the Hudson River. Successful merchants, Luis Gomez and his sons built a trading post on the Hudson near Newburgh in 1717, and in 1732 the Hays family settled near New Rochelle in Westchester. During the French and Indian War, Hayman Levy , a Hanoverian, conducted a large fur trade around Lake Champlain in the north, and Lyon and Manuel Josephson supplied goods to northern British forts. In the 1760s, some Jews settled on Long Island and in Westchester. Until the 19th century, most Jews who settled in the area that became New York State in 1788 were of Spanish-Portuguese origin.
Following the War of 1812, improvements in maritime technology and transportation, particularly the use of steam and the opening of the Erie Canal, combined to intensify Jewish settlement. Aaron Levy, for example, visited the Lake George region from 1805 to 1834. Significant Jewish communities developed in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo between 1820 and the Civil War. During the substantial German Jewish immigration that began during the 1830s, many immigrants settled along the upper transportation routes to the Middle West: Newburgh (1848), Poughkeepsie (1848), Kingston (1853), Hudson (1867), Albany (1838), Schenectady (1840s), Troy (1850s), Amsterdam (1874), Gloversville (1850s), Utica (1848), Syracuse (1839), Rochester (1848), and Buffalo (1847) on the Hudson-Mohawk River route. Other settlements were founded in Binghamton (1885), Elmira (1850), and Olean (1882) along the southern Susquehanna River, Plattsburgh (1861) on Lake Champlain, and Ogdensburg (1865) on the St. Lawrence River. Isaac M. Wise, the principal architect of Reform Judaism in the United States, served briefly in Albany beginning in 1846. There he established the custom of mixed seating in American synagogues. By 1860 there were 20 congregations in the state and 53 by 1877. These Jews were predominantly merchants and peddlers, while some were farmers. By 1909 there were seven Jewish farmers' organizations in the state, and the first Jewish farmers' credit union was formed in 1911.
An estimated 60,000–80,000 Jews lived in the state in 1880. East European immigration increased that number to
In 1902, Jewish organizations established summer camps for urban Jewish youth, beginning with the Educational Alliance's Surprise Lake Camp, in Cold Spring. And Jews made themselves felt on rural Long Island, too. In 1909, a Jewish dentist, Dr. Henry W. Walden, invented and flew the first American monoplane from Mineola Airport. One Long Island company, the Elberson Rubber Factory in Setauket, had so many Jews on its payroll that it had to close for the High
Relief from summer heat, sweatshops, and squalor led to the development of the "Borscht Belt" in Sullivan, Ulster, and Orange counties. Some left the Lower East Side and bought small farms. But farming was not their forte, and soon the farms became boarding houses, then inns and bungalow colonies for visitors from the city. The guests insisted on entertainment, and by the 1920s that became a major undertaking. Waiters and busboys doubled as comics and entertainers, or tummlers, while the social directors became impresarios. Among the social directors were Moss Hart, the future playwright, and Don Hartman, who became head of Paramount Pictures. The tummlers included David Daniel Kaminsky, Aaron Chwatt, Jacob Pincus Perelmuth, Morris Miller, Eugene Klass, Joseph Levitch, Milton Berlinger, Joseph Gottlieb and Murray Janofsky, later to become well-known as Danny Kaye, Red Buttons, Jan Peerce, Robert Merrill, Gene Barry, Jerry Lewis, Milton Berle, Joey Bishop, and Jan Murray.
The queen of the mountains was Jennie Grossinger, who became the region's best-known hostess, and her namesake hotel the most imitated. One of the imitators was Arthur Winarick, the bald manufacturer of Jeris hair tonic and the owner of the Concord Hotel, who constantly tried to one-up Grossinger's. In later years, television, jet travel, and increased competition proved serious threats to the region, and Grossinger's was sold in 1985 for conversion to condominiums and ski houses. Dozens of hotels closed or became retreats for religious cultists.
For 100 years, beginning at the end of the 19th century, Jewish life had a presence in the area. Synagogues were constructed in almost every hamlet. By 1999, 15 remained. Seven of them were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They were: Agudas Achim, Livingston Manor; B'nai Israel, Woodbourne; Anshei Glen Wild, Glen Wild; Bikur Cholim B'nai Yisroel, Swan Lake; Chevra Ahavath Zion, Monticello; Tifereth Israel Anshei, Parksville; and the Jewish Community Center of White Sulphur Springs. Sharon Springs developed as a high-end Jewish refuge. After World War II, Sharon Springs got a second wind from the West German government, which paid medical care reparations to Holocaust survivors, holding that therapeutic spa vacations were a legitimate part of the medical package. Many hotel guests had tattoos on their arms.
Politically, the roster of New York Jews who served in Congress began in the 19th century and included Edwin Einstein (1879–81); Joseph Pulitzer (1883–85); Isidor Straus (1894–95); Israel Frederick Fischer (1894–95); Lucius N. Littauer (1897–1907); Mitchell May (1899–1901); and Jefferson M. Levy (1899–1901; 1911–15). In the 20th century, Herbert Tenzer (1965–69) was the first Orthodox Jew in Congress; Allard K. Lowenstein (1869–71), a leader of the anti-war movement, won election from Long Island, and Gary L. Ackerman (1983– ), representing Queens and Long Island, was host in his office to minḥah prayers each afternoon at the Capitol.
Herbert H. Lehman was governor from 1933 to 1942, and U.S. senator from 1949 to 1957. Jacob K. Javits served as U.S. senator from 1957 to 1981. Charles Schumer first served as a congressman and later as a senator beginning in 1998. Benjamin N. Cardozo (1927–32), Irving Lehman (1940–45), and Stanley H. Fuld (1966-73) were chief justices of the Court of Appeals, the state's highest bench. Pressure from Jewish members of the State Legislature led to the passage of the Fair Employment Practice Act in 1945, the first in the U.S. to prohibit discrimination in employment practices.
Jewish newspapers were published in Buffalo (since 1918), Rochester (1924), Westchester (1942), Long Island (1944), and Schenectady (1965)
The 1,761,020 Jews of New York State represent around 9% of the total population of the state. New York City, long the most populous and influential of the American Jewish communities, had fewer than 1,000,000, with the Bronx being virtually without Jews except for Riverdale (45,000), Manhattan having 243,500 Jews, Brooklyn 456,000, Queens 186,000, and Staten Island 42,700. The metropolitan area, which included the suburbs as well as those in New Jersey and lower Connecticut, was the most predominant Jewish community outside of Israel, containing some 40% of all American Jews. Excluding New York City, there are more than 513 synagogues in New York State and some 50 mikvehs. Other population centers include: Nassau County (221,000), Suffolk County (90,000), Westchester (129,000), Rockland County (90,000), Rochester (22,500), Orange County (including Monroe and Newburgh, 19,000), Buffalo (18,500), Albany (12,000), and Syracuse (9,000).
As of 2013, New York State's Jewish population was approximately 1,761,020 people.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved. AJYB, (1938–39, 1970); C.M. Horowitz and L.J. Kaplan, The Estimated Jewish Population of the New York Area, 1900–1975; J.R. Marcus, Early American Jewry, 1 (1961), 24–101; U.Z. Engleman, in: JSOS, 9 (April 1947), 127–74. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: L.S. Maisel and I.N. Forman, Jews in American Politics (2001).