YOUNGSTOWN, iron and steel producing center in N.E. Ohio; the general population in 2004 was 77,713; Jewish population estimated at 3,200, a significant reduction from the Jewish population of the 1970s, but one that is proportionate to the general decline of Youngstown's population. An early historical account indicates that some Jews settled in Youngstown in 1826, but the first name of a Jewish settler on record is that of Jacob Spiegel in 1837. The first Jewish immigrants came from Alsace, Bavaria, and central Germany; a second wave was from Hungary and Romania; while early in the 20th century there was yet another heavy influx from Poland and Russia. After World War II several hundred refugee families from Europe were absorbed by the local Jewish community.
The earliest Jewish settlers in Youngstown were mostly merchants, though some were also involved in the founding of the local steel industry. Over the course of the 20th century, however, Jews tended to move upward from small retail businesses – whereas there were once over 100 Jewish grocers in Youngstown, in 1970 there were only a few – into the professions and such fields as steel, aluminum, and plastics fabricating plants, wholesale distributorships, and insurance agencies. In 1970 most heads of families were owners of, or employees in, business and industry. In recent decades the percentage of Jewish professionals declined slightly, as young people graduating college tended to settle elsewhere, in larger urban areas.
The oldest existing congregation in Youngstown in 1970 was Rodef Sholom (Reform), founded in 1867. Three other congregations existed as well: Children of Israel (traditional Orthodox), founded in 1892; Temple Emanu-El (modern Orthodox), founded by Russian and Polish immigrants in 1906; and Temple Anshe Emeth (Conservative), founded in 1924. Several congregations organized early in the 20th century disappeared when their congregants moved from the neighborhoods in which they were established.
From the mid-1960s, most of the Jewish population of Youngstown has moved to the northern and southern suburbs of the city. The community was organized around the Jewish Federation, created in 1935, and the Jewish Community Center, built in 1953. Federation agencies included the Jewish Community Center, a Family and Children's Service, a Community Relations Council, and Heritage Manor, a home for the aged. The 1960s witnessed growing coordination between the congregations and the Jewish Community Center in cultural and youth activities. The community was served by a local paper, the Youngstown Jewish Times.
Jews held a wide variety of cultural, civic, and philanthropic positions in Youngstown life, yet for the most part they continued to be excluded from active participation in the local "power structure." No Jews held (1970) executive posts with any of the big national steel companies operating in Youngstown, few ran for public office, and fewer still were elected. From the 1970s the steel companies switched much of their operations overseas, and there are fewer barriers to Jewish participation in the life of the community.
There are four congregations in Youngstown: a Chabad congregation, Children of Israel; a Reform congregation, Rodef Sholom; a Conservative congregation, Ohev Tzedek Shaarei Torah; and a congregation that lists itself as Conservative and Reform, Temple El Emeth. Among the newer activities of the community is an annual Jewish film festival.
Youngstown Jewish Times (1935– ); Jewish Federation of Youngstown, Ohio, Annual Report (1937); J.G. Butler, History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, Ohio (1921), passim.