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Virtual Jewish World:
Utah, United States


Virtual Jewish World: Table of Contents | North America | United States


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Utah is the Rocky Mountain state between Nevada and Colorado. The proposed State of Deseret, founded by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, LDS, (Mormons), in 1847 and acknowledged as Utah Territory in 1850, became a state in 1896. Utah is the rare place on earth where the Jews are considered "Gentiles," in this case non-Mormons.

While the Mormon flight to the West was one of religious liberty, western Jewish migration was spurred by a sense of adventure, romance, economics, risk, and personal and religious freedom away from the stigma of antisemitism encountered in Europe.

As early as 1826, Jewish trappers traversed the territory. In 1854, Jewish daguerreotypist and writer Solomon Nunes Carvalho traveling with Colonel John C. Fremont's mapmaking expedition yielded unparalleled images of the young Mormon community. That same year, Julius and Fannie Brooks became Utah's first Jewish family. Many Jewish entrepreneurs followed, establishing commercial shops and business ventures both large and small.

Believing themselves members of a lost tribe, Mormon theology maintains a special affiliation with Judaism, and at the same time identifies Jews as "Gentiles," non-Mormons. By the 1860s, increasing numbers of Gentiles in the Territory posed a threat to Mormon autonomy. LDS Church leaders adopted a resolution pledging its members to be self-sustaining and to boycott Gentile-owned businesses.

Bitterness between Gentiles and Mormons reached such heights that non-Mormons feared for their livelihood and safety. Rental property stood vacant, merchants forced into bankruptcy fled the Territory; others relocated to the railroad town of Ogden and the all-Gentile tent city of Corrine. When the transcontinental railroad (1869) and subsequent mining enterprises precluded all possibilities of Mormon seclusion, sanctions were lifted. (By 1930, 100 Jewish-owned businesses lined the downtown streets of Salt Lake City.)

Utah's early Jewish population was comprised of mostly middle-class and educated German émigrés (1857–1874) and pious Eastern European Jews (1890–1920).

Early on, people worshipped in their homes. In 1866 on property loaned by Brigham Young, the newly-formed Hebrew Benevolent Society dedicated the first cemetery in the Intermountain West. In Salt Lake City, 1881, Reform German members incorporated Congregation B'nai Israel. In 1889, Russian and Polish Jews held Conservative services in the home of Nathan Rosenblatt and in 1904 built Congregation Montefiore. The short-lived (1915–1930) but lively Shaarey Tzedek offered Orthodox services. In Ogden, Congregation Brith Sholem (formed in 1890 and built 1916), remains the state's oldest, continuously operating synagogue. In 1972, the two Salt Lake synagogues merged into Congregation Kol Ami. In 1990, the Chabad Lubavitch synagogue, Bais Menachem, opened its doors; earlier the Chavurah B'Yachad offered Reconstructionist programs; and in 1995, Reform Temple Har Sholem was founded in Park City.

In Clarion, 300 immigrant Jewish farmers (1911–1916) created a new chapter in western history with the last major attempt of Jewish colonization on land in the United States. Jews have contributed much to Utah history, including Senator Simon Bamberger (1903–1907), who became the first Democrat, first non-Mormon, and only Jewish Utah governor in 1916; Salt Lake City mayor Louis Marcus (1932–1935); Tooele mayor Sol Selvin (1942–1946); Toquerville mayor, Dr. David Dolowitz (1980); and in 2005, Patrice Arent, the highest-ranking woman in the Utah legislature, and Representative David Litvack. Jews have also been involved in higher education representing major Utah universities, medical schools, and colleges.

In a state of 2,400,000 people, an estimated 5,650 Jews reside in Utah as of 2013, primarily in Salt Lake City, but also in Park City and Ogden.


Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

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