Jewish settlement in Ohio paralleled the opening of new lands to the west of the Allegheny and Appalachian Mountains, the development of canals, roads, and later, railroads. The first documented Jewish settler in Ohio was an English watchmaker named Joseph Jonas, who settled in Cincinnati in 1817. His presence, something of a curiosity to the locals who had never seen a Jew, was well tolerated. As his relatives joined him, and new settlers made their way to Cincinnati , there was a large enough group to establish Ohio's first congregation, Bene Israel, in 1824. Cleveland , in the northeastern portion of the state, also attracted Jewish settlers. Daniel Maduro Peixotto arrived in 1835 to teach at Willoughby Medical College, and in 1839 a group of 15 men and women from Unsleben, Bavaria, joined Simson Thorman and founded the Israelitic Society. Prior to the Civil War, five other Jewish communities were founded: Columbus (1838); Dayton (1850); Hamilton (1855); Piqua (1858); and Portsmouth (1858). Throughout the German Jewish immigration period (through the 1870s) communities were also established in Youngstown, Akron , Toledo , and Canton. With little overt antisemitism, Jews were elected to public office. Marcus Frankel served as mayor of Columbus, and William Kraus and Guido Marx were mayors of Toledo.
Cincinnati's Jewish community played a significant national role in the development of the Reform movement. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise founded The Israelite in 1854, the first English language newspaper published west of the Allegheny Mountains. In 1855 he convened a national conference in an attempt to unify American Jewry, which, while unable to achieve that goal, was successful in producing Minhag America, a new prayer book co-edited by Rabbi Isador Kalisch , then rabbi of Cleveland's Tifereth Israel. Wise organized the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1873 and in 1875 founded the first American rabbinical seminary, Hebrew Union College.
In the 20th century there were six Jewish mayors in Cincinnati; Howard M. Metzenbaum, a Democrat from Cleveland, was a United States senator for 17 years; Gilbert Bettman and Lee Fisher were state attorneys general. Pauline Steinem, a suffragist from Toledo, was the first woman to serve on the Toledo Board of Education, and Mary Belle Grossman, an attorney from Cleveland, was the first woman municipal judge in the United States. Sally Priesand , raised in Cleveland and ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1972, was the first woman rabbi in the United States. Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was a leader in the international Zionist movement; rabbis Arthur J. Lelyveld and Sylvan Ruslander were active in the civil rights movement.
After World War II, there was increased movement of Jewish populations to the suburbs of Roselawn, Golf Manor, and Amberley Village of Cincinnati; Bexley of Columbus; and the "Heights" – Shaker, Cleveland, and University – of Cleveland, as well as Beachwood, which became about 80 percent Jewish.
In 2001 the major Jewish communities in Ohio were in the metropolitan areas of Cleveland (81,500), Cincinnati (22,500), Columbus (22,000), Dayton (5,000), Akron (3,500), Toledo (5,900), Youngstown (3,200), and Canton (1,500). These eight cities and their suburbs all have federations or community councils. The eight federations work together on a state-wide basis to support the Government Affairs Committee of Ohio Jewish Communities, located in Columbus, the state capital. There are more than 100 synagogues in the state, 14 day schools, and seven Anglo-Jewish newspapers: Akron Jewish News, American Israelite (Cincinnati), Cleveland Jewish News, Dayton Jewish Observer, Jewish Journal (Youngstown), Ohio Jewish Chronicle and The New Standard (both Columbus), Stark Jewish News (Canton area), and the Toledo Jewish News.
There are three institutes of higher Jewish learning in Ohio: the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, mentioned above; the Laura and Alvin Siegal College of Judaic Studies in Beachwood; and the Telshe Yeshiva (Wickliffe). All three train either rabbis or educators. Several of Ohio's universities offer Jewish studies majors and graduate level degrees, as well as provide Hillel Foundation meeting centers for students. In addition, a number of prominent families have established foundations that support local, national and international educational efforts, including the Melton, Schottenstein, and Wexner families of Columbus, and the Mandel and Stone families of Cleveland. The Klau Library and the Jacob Rader Marcus Center for the American Jewish Archives (AJA) are located on the campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. A major repository of written and audio-visual American Jewish history, the AJA publishes the American Jewish Archives Journal. A second source of Jewish archives material in the state, focusing on northeast Ohio, is at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland. There are two Jewish museums: the Skirball Museum at the Hebrew Union College, which also houses the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education; a second, the Milton and Tamar Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, opened in 2005 in Beachwood. It is to include The Temple-Tifereth Israel's distinguished collection of international Judaica and a new interactive presentation of local American Jewish history.
As of 2013, Ohio's Jewish population was approximately 148,680 people.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved. J.A. Avner, "Judaism," in: T.S. Butalia and D.P. Small (eds.), Religion in Ohio (2004).