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Bridgeport, Connecticut

BRIDGEPORT, largest city in the state of Connecticut, U.S. A handful of Central and West European Jews, part of what is known as the German migration, settled in the city in the mid-19th century. A much larger migration of Jews from Eastern Europe began in 1881. In addition to the predominance of Russian and Polish Jews, a large number came from Hungary and gave Bridgeport proportionately one of the most sizeable Hungarian Jewish populations in America. The city had a Hungarian neighborhood that housed Jews and non-Jews from Hungary. The city's general population also reflects this ethnic distribution. In the mid-20th century, most Bridgeport Jews were self-employed, in retail and wholesale business, manufacturing, and the professions. By the end of the 20th century, the movement into the professions was dominant. Their economic standing is higher than the average in the city and the surrounding surburbs. Migration to the suburbs began in the 1950s and continued unabated though some Jewish institutions have remained in the city. Most Bridgeport-area Jews live in Fairfield, Stratford, Trumbull, Easton, Shelton, Monroe, Redding, and Huntington as well as in one enclave within Bridgeport proper. As a result of the suburban migration, the Jewish Federation is known as the Federation of Eastern Fairfield County. There are five separate Federations within the County: Westport, Greenwich, Stamford, Danbury, and Eastern Fairfield.

In the early 21st century there were 10 congregations in greater Eastern Fairfield County, which is now synonymous with greater Bridgeport – three Orthodox, five Conservative, one Reform, and one Humanistic, which is the only synagogue community not to have its own facility. Three rabbis served their congregations for many decades; Conservative rabbis Israel Stein and Leon Waldman and Orthodox rabbi Moshe Epstein. In the mid-20th century, long-serving Rabbi Harry Nelson established Conservative congregation Rodeph Shalom as a dominant regional institution.

In 1996 the Jewish Community Center and the Federation merged to become one organization: the Jewish Center for Community Services. For recreational and fundraising purposes a separate identity is sometimes used but the community supports a Jewish Home for the Elderly; Jewish Family Service; a Modern Orthodox day school called Hillel Academy, along with a family and children's agency. The Torah Institute of Connecticut, which is a post-high school program, is also based in Bridgeport. The Jewish population of greater Bridgeport was 12,000 in 2005, a decline of some 20% from the figure in 1968. There is more westward migration and movement down the coast toward New York as socioeconomic conditions are more favorable the closer one is to New York.

[Eli Kornreich (2nd ed.)]

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