Chicago, the third largest metropolis in the United States, is located in northeastern Illinois. In 2000 it had an estimated population of 2,896,000 in a metropolitan population of 8,091,719. In 2022 the Jewish population of metropolitan Chicago was estimated at 321,980, making it the third largest Jewish community in America. In 1930, Chicago had the second largest American Jewish community, an estimated 350,000 Jews, and in 1959 it was the third largest, with an estimated 282,000 Jews. The numerical decline is a result of migration primarily to the West Coast, especially Los Angeles, and to the Southwest and South, as well as a relatively low birth rate, intermarriage, and a decline in immigrants from overseas.
Jews were among Chicago's earliest settlers. In 1832, a year before the little settlement was officially incorporated as a "town," Morris Baumgarten resided there. In 1834 Aaron Friend and Isaac Hays advertised in the Chicago Democrat concerning unclaimed mail, and Peter Cohen advertised "a large and splendid assortment of winter clothing" as well as a "fresh supply of provisions, groceries, and liquors" for sale in his store. In 1836 the "Jewish Peddler," J. Gottlieb, made his mark on the growing western town. In 1837 Chicago, with 5,000 inhabitants, was incorporated as a city; between 1840 and 1844, about 20 Jews settled in the city, most of them immigrants from Bavaria and the Rhenish Palatinate in Germany. The first High Holy Day service was held on the Day of Atonement, 1845. As in other cities in the Colonies and the States, the first community organization was the Jewish Burial Ground Society, which came into being late in 1845 and purchased an acre of land from the city to be used as a cemetery. On October 3, 1846, in the dry-goods emporium of Rosenfeld and Rosenberg, 15 Jews founded the first Jewish congregation in the city, Kehillath Anshe Ma'arav ("the Congregation of the People of the West"), subsequently referred to as KAM. They practiced the traditional Minhag Ashkenaz and worshiped in a room above a clothing store. The Jewish Burial Ground Society merged with KAM, and KAM dedicated the first Chicago synagogue in 1851. The Reverend Ignatz Kunreuther (b. 1811) from Frankfurt on the Main was invited to be ḥazzan and shoḥet; in 1853 he presided over a "Constituted Rabbinate Collegium" that converted a woman to Judaism. That same year Kunreuther was succeeded in his congregational post by Godfrey Snydacker from Westphalia, Germany; Snydacker, a trained teacher, laid the foundation of the day school at KAM, where Hebrew, English, and German were taught "in addition to the common branches." By the middle of the century, two additional community organizations came into being: the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Chicago, a group of semi-religious characters, dissatisfied with KAM's orthodoxy, and Kehillath B'nai Sholom (KBS), primarily consisting of Jews from Posen who practiced the traditional Minhag Polen. The latter was organized in September 1849 (not May 1852, the anniversary date given by many). The Hebrew Benevolent Society purchased three acres of land for a cemetery, part of which KBS purchased. In 1856 a segment of KBS formed the Chevrath Gemilath Chassodim Ubikur Cholem. A year later, the Ramah Lodge No. 33 of B'nai B'rith was organized. By 1860 Chicago was home to the Juedischer Reformverein, founded as the Israelite Reform Society in 1857; the United Hebrew Relief Association, the charity organization founded in 1859; the Young Men's Fraternity; the Clay Literary and Dramatic Association; the Ladies' Benevolent Society; and the Young Ladies Benevolent Society. In 1860 the Jewish population stood at 1,500, out of the city's total population of 112,260.
In 1861 the Reform Congregation Sinai was founded, a development of the Juedischer Reformverein, organized four years earlier. Its spiritual leader was Bernard *Felsenthal, who in 1859 had published Kol Kore Bammidbar ("Voice Calling in the Wilderness"), a German brochure, in favor of reform in Judaism. Three years later, Felsenthal founded the Zion Congregation and was succeeded at Sinai by Isaac Loew Chronik of Koenigsberg. Chronik was the first to publish a German-Jewish magazine in Chicago, Zeichen der Zeit ("Signs of the Time"). A year later, Chronik returned to Germany and was succeeded by Kaufman *Kohler. In November 1861, the Chevrah Kedisha Ubikur Cholem seceded from the Chevrah Gemilath Chassodim Ubikur Cholem and evolved into a synagogue that became known as "Secesh [i.e., secessionist] Shule." By this time, Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian immigrants from Eastern Europe began to arrive in the city. Their vernacular was Yiddish, and their chief occupation peddling. As early as the autumn of 1862, the East European Jews organized Congregation B'nai Jacob and, a year later, Beth Hamedrash Hagodol; in 1867,
On the West Side, in a district bounded by Sixteenth Street on the South and Polk Street on the north and the Chicago river and Halsted street on the east and west, one can walk the streets for blocks and see none but Semitic features and hear nothing but the Hebrew patois of Russian Poland. In this restricted boundary, in narrow streets, ill-ventilated tenements and rickety cottages, there is a population of from 15,000 to 16,000 Russian Jews. Every Jew in this quarter who can speak a word of English is engaged in business of some sort. The favorite occupation, probably on account of the small capital required, is fruit and vegetable peddling. Here, also is the home of the Jewish street merchant, the rag and junk peddler, and the "glass pudding" man. The principal streets in the quarter are lined with stores of every description. Trades, with which Jews are not usually associated, such as saloonkeeping, shaving and hair cutting, and blacksmithing, have their representatives and Hebrew signs. In a narrow street a private school is in full blast. In the front basement room of a small cottage forty small boys all with hats on, sit crowded into a space 10 × 10 feet in size, presided over by a stout middle-aged man with a long, curling, matted beard, who also retains his hat, a battered rusty derby of ancient style. All the old or middle-aged men in the quarter affect this peculiar headgear.… The younger generation of men are more progressive and having been born in this country are patriotic and want to be known as Americans and not Russians.… The commercial life of this district seems to be uncommonly keen. Everyone is looking for a bargain and everyone has something to sell. The home life seems to be full of content and easygoing unconcern for what the outside world thinks.… (Chicago Tribune, July 19, 1891).
This area contained the famous Maxwell Street Market, which flourished from the 1870s until it was closed by the city in 1994. For many years it was the third largest retail area in the city. Jews lived in the Maxwell Street area in large numbers until the 1920s. Among the prominent people who lived in the Maxwell Street area were Benny *Goodman, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur *Goldberg, the father of the atomic-powered submarine, Admiral Hyman *Rickover, CBS founder William *Paley, novelist Meyer *Levin, Academy-Award-winning actor Paul *Muni, social activist Saul *Alinsky, movie mogul Barney *Balaban, world champion boxers Jackie *Fields and Barney *Ross, and a number of well-known local politicians and businessmen.
Of the large migration from Germany, Prussia, Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland in the 1840s and 1850s, most became peddlers, and later many opened small businesses. In the 1860s, Jews began to enter the medical and legal professions; some also went into banking, even founding Jewish banking houses. The new Russian immigrants of the 1880s preferred factory work and small business. The greatest number of them, 4,000 by 1900, was employed in the clothing industry, mainly its ready-made branches. The second largest number, 2,400 by 1900, entered the tobacco industry, primarily the cigar trade, many of them in business for themselves. The Russian immigrants had been preceded in these trades by the earlier Jewish immigrants but now far outnumbered them. Among the Russian Jews at the turn of the century were also about 2,000 rag peddlers, 1,000 fruit and vegetable peddlers, and a good number of iron peddlers; others found work ranging from common laborers to highly skilled mechanics and technicians. The growth of sweat shops in the needle trade in the 1880s, with their unsanitary conditions and excessive hours, was the determining factor in the development of the Jewish socialist movement and the Jewish trade union movement. The Chicago Cloakmakers Union, predominantly Jewish, was the first to protest against child labor, which persisted despite compulsory education and conditions in the sweatshops. They succeeded only in establishing a 14-year-old age limit and limiting any one sweatshop to the members of one family. In that period, there were many short-lived unions and several strikes in the clothing industry in Chicago, mainly by East European workers against German-Jewish shopowners, but the first successful strike did not take place until 1910; it included workers from the latest influx of Russian immigrants, who fled the Russian revolution of 1905 and among whom were many revolutionary idealists. The strike was conducted in the face of the hostile leadership of the United Garment Workers, their union, which sent in strike-breakers. Nevertheless, it was this strike that in 1911 established collective bargaining in the clothing industry. It spurred the New York Tailors locals to organize nationally and, ultimately, laid the foundations for a new and lasting union, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, under the leadership of Chicagoan Sidney *Hillman.
Although they began as peddlers and small store owners, German Jews came to Chicago early and with a relatively good secular education. They soon prospered and went into the professions and large businesses. They ran such well-known national companies as Florsheim, Spiegel, Aldens, Kuppenheimer, Hart Shaffner and Marx, A.G. Becker, Albert Pick, Brunswick, and Inland Steel. Julius *Rosenwald oversaw the growth of Sears Roebuck. He was a major philanthropist for Jewish and non-Jewish causes and for the establishment of the Museum of Science and Industry. His brother-in-law Max Adler, also of Sears Roebuck and a philanthropist, founded the Adler Planetarium. For a number of generations, there was some friction between the German Jew and the Eastern European Jews, mainly due to differences in religious beliefs, tradition, language, and economic status. The two groups lived apart and each had their own institutions. Today in Chicago – as elsewhere – the former divisions of the two groups are virtually nonexistent.
Population Growth and Demographic Changes
From the 1880s to the 1920s, the Jewish population grew from 10,000 to 225,000, or from 2 percent to 8 percent of the general population. In 1900 about 65 percent of Chicago's Jews were of East European origin; in 1920, about 80 percent were. Between World War I and World War II, the west side, with the largest number and proportion of foreign-born, was the seat of the large Orthodox and smaller secular Jewish movements. The community of North Lawndale, with an estimated 110,000 Jews in 1930, was the most intensively Jewish area and the center of Jewish life. The North Lawndale Jewish community was the largest such community that Chicago ever had. It was the home of 60 synagogues, all but two being Orthodox. It claimed Yiddish theaters, the Hebrew Theological College, the very active Jewish People's Institute, a much-used community center, Mt. Sinai Hospital, facilities for the aged, blind, and orphans, and numerous Zionist, religious, cultural, educational, and social organizations. For a while, Gold Meyer-son (*Meir) lived in this area and worked in the local public library. Most of the area residents had previously lived in the Maxwell Street area. By contrast, the Albany Park area on the northwest side, which in 1930 accommodated an estimated 29,000 persons, was attractive to families desiring more rapid acculturation. In 1930 the Jewish population of Chicago increased to 265,450. A survey in 1937 revealed that of the adult Jewish population over 15 years of age, 57 percent were born outside the United States. Of the latter, 78 percent had come from the former Russian Empire; 18 percent from Central Europe (Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, and Romania); 2 percent from Western and Northwestern Europe; and 2 percent from the East and Near East. In 1930 other Chicago areas with sizable Jewish populations included the north lake-front area of Lakeview-Uptown, Rogers Park with 27,000 Jews; West Town-Humboldt Park-Logan Square with 35,000 Jews on the northwest side; and Kenwood-Hyde Park and Woodlawn-South Shore on the south side, The south side Jewish communities had the highest economic status and consisted mainly of German Jews, followed by the north and northwest side Jews. Of all these communities, only Kenwood-Hyde Park in the University of Chicago area still has a small but viable Jewish community, as does the north lakefront area.
As of 1940, Jewish families were substantially smaller than those of other religious and ethnic groups. Among Jewish men, self-employment (employers and own-account workers) was much more prominent than among men of other groups. White-collar occupations, such as proprietors, managers, and clerical workers, were especially attractive to them. In local, as in national politics, Jews were predominantly identified with the Democratic Party. In the 1936 presidential election, Franklin Delano Roosevelt received 95.95 percent of the vote in the Jewish 24th ward in North Lawndale, leading President Roosevelt to comment that it was the best ward in the whole country.
With the end of World War II the settlement pattern of the Jewish population of Chicago underwent a radical change. From the 1940s through the 1960s, Jews relocated their residences in the northern part of the city and in the suburbs to its north, including Skokie, Lincolnwood, Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, Highland Park, and Evanston; south, including Park Forest; and west, including Oak Park and Des Plaines. In 1947 the Chicago Tribune recorded the Jewish population in the city and within a 40-mile radius of it as 342,800. By 1952 the Jewish population of Chicago had declined to approximately 300,000, mostly English-speaking and native-born. In 1963 it was estimated that 80 percent of the total Jewish population resided in the northern sector that stretches roughly from Albany Park in the city to the suburb of Wilmette in Cook County. In 1970 West Rogers Park and suburban Skokie were the largest Jewish communities, each with a Jewish population of almost 50,000, constituting about 70 percent of the total population of each area. In the late 1970s a small group of American Nazis tried to schedule a march in Skokie, specifically targeting its large Holocaust survivor population, who supported the efforts to ban the march and faced stiff opposition from the ACLU and other free speech advocates. To a considerable extent, the development of these new communities with religious, educational, cultural, and social service facilities was the result of a conscious effort to perpetuate the cohesion of Jewish groups. Community leaders held the opinion that a modicum of Jewish education and voluntary segregation in a high-status residential area would forestall assimilation. By 1969 there were growing Jewish communities in such other Chicago suburbs as Arlington Heights, Deerfield, Morton Grove, Mt. Prospect, Northbrook, and Buffalo-Groves. Yet the city of Chicago remained the center of the community, with many of the area Jews commuting into town for work and Jewish institutional life remaining there.
The 1970s and After
During recent decades the Chicago Jewish community has been able to identify changes in the Jewish population through scientific surveys conducted by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. In 1970 the population was estimated at 251,000; in 1980, at 248,000; in 1990, at 261,000; and in 2000, at 270,000. In 2000, it was also learned that there were an additional 50,000 non-Jews living in Jewish households, including non-Jewish spouses, children, and partners.
Several trends were evident, which parallel those in other communities. The first involves the growth in the number of households, from approximately 97,000 in 1970 to 134,000 in 2000; the increase is related to more households with singles, empty nesters (i.e., families in which the children have grown and left home), and the elderly. The percentage of households with married couples having children has steadily declined, while the proportion of households with single adults has steadily increased.
The second trend is the suburbanization of the population. In the early 1950s, it was projected that only 4 percent of the Jewish population lived in the suburbs outside the city of Chicago. By 1971 the population was evenly split between city and suburbs; in 1980, nearly 60 percent lived in the suburbs, and by 2000, nearly 70 percent lived in the suburbs. There were still neighborhoods with a significant Jewish population in the city, the most prominent being West Rogers Park on the north side of the city, in which nearly 30,000 Jews live, many of them Orthodox or Traditional, with some 20 synagogues and other community institutions, including the Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center and Ida Crown Academy. Although the majority of the Jews live in the northern suburbs, the area of the fastest growth has been the northwest suburbs (Buffalo Grove, Northwood, Deerfield). There were also areas of limited new Jewish concentration in the western and southern suburbs. Two new synagogues also existed in the far northwest McHenry County more than 50 miles from downtown Chicago. With every movement farther outward, Jewish density, political influence, and Yiddishkeit declined.
While the population has become increasingly American-born, with only 10 percent of the adults foreign-born, the community has witnessed an influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union. During the past 30 years, the Chicago Jewish Community, through the Jewish Federation, its agencies, and congregations, has resettled nearly 25,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union. Further, the community continues to attract Jews from elsewhere in the United States. The most recent population study shows that nearly 50 percent of adult Jews come from outside the Chicago area, including many young adults.
As a community with more than one-quarter million Jews, Chicago has a rich and varied institutional network. Within the religious sphere in 2004, there were 140 synagogues, including 39 Orthodox, 14 Traditional (which include Orthodox rabbis and services, but with mixed seating and sometimes the use of microphones), nine Lubavitcher congregations, 31 Conservative, 36 Reform, three Reconstructionist, one Humanist, and seven Non-Denominational. Among those who are affiliated with synagogues – less than half of the Chicago Jewish community – nearly 26 percent identify as Orthodox, Traditional, or Chabad, 35 percent as Conservative, 35 percent as Reform, and the remainder to other groupings. The majority of households do not belong to a congregation – it was estimated that in 2000 the affiliation rate was 42 percent of all households – although other data show that households move in and out of synagogue affiliation – hence more than 62 percent are currently or have been members at some point in time during their adult lives. The two major rabbinic organizations are the Chicago Board of Rabbis (CBR) and the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC). The CBR, which in 1959 developed out of the Chicago Rabbinical Association (founded in 1893), serves all denominational groups and had a membership in 1995 of 250 members; the exclusively Orthodox Chicago Rabbinical Association numbers some 200 Orthodox rabbis. In addition, the community has four mikva'ot and two battei din, or religious courts, one Orthodox, the other Conservative.
Many of the Jewish educational and social service organizations receive support from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. This organization traces its origins back to the Associated Jewish Charities (1900), which went through some organizational changes, becoming the Jewish Charities in 1922, when it incorporated the Federated Orthodox Jewish Charities. In 1936 the Jewish Welfare Fund was organized to assume responsibility for allocation overseas as well as local Jewish education and culture. In 1968 the Jewish Federation and Welfare Fund combined its fund-raising efforts with those of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF). In 1974 the Welfare Fund merged into the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. In addition to funding overseas needs, the Jewish United Fund dollars also assist many Chicago and national community institutions through allocations via the Jewish Federation. These include employment services, services directed at families and children with emotional problems, comprehensive at-home and residential services for the elderly, seven community centers, as well as Jewish educational institutions and schools. For many years the Federation supported two hospitals, Michael Reese (founded in 1881) and Mount Sinai (founded in 1918 as the successor to Maimonides Hospital); following the sale of Michael Reese to a national healthcare organization, the Federation now supports only Mount Sinai.
EDUCATIONAL AND CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS
The Chicago Jewish community hosts a variety of Jewish educational and cultural institutions, many of them supported by the Jewish Federation with annual grants or allocations. Institutions of higher learning include the Hebrew Theological College, which for a generation was the home of Jewish philosopher
The Zionist movement began in Chicago in pre-Herzlian days, when in 1886, a branch of Ḥovevei Zion was established. This was followed by the organization of several Zionist groups, including the Chicago Zionist Organization No. 1 in 1896, the Knights of Zion on October 28, 1897, and young Zionist groups called B'nai Zion in 1898. By 1995 Zionist groups included the Zionist Organization of Chicago, a chapter of Hadassah, the Amit Women, Na'amath U.S.A., and the Aliyah Council, a community-based organization that promotes aliyah and is a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation. The Chicago Israel Bonds organization was active as well and the Israel Consulate General for Midwestern states is situated in Chicago. So, too, is the Midwest office of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the most successful of all its fundraising offices. In 1913 the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith was founded in Chicago to combat anti-Semitism.
The change over time, however, in the culture of the immigrant population was most evident in the decline in lands-mannschaften, which numbered 600 in 1948 (including those added by survivors of the Holocaust settling in Chicago) but only 13 in 1995. The Yiddish Theater, which made its Chicago debut in 1887, still existed in 1951.
Very early in the history of the Jewish community, Chicago Jewry began to participate in the civic and political lives of the larger community. In 1856 Henry Greenbaum of a prominent family was elected Alderman of the sixth ward. Abraham Kohn was City Clerk. In 1860 Kohn presented Lincoln, on his departure for Washington, with an American flag inscribed with Hebrew verses from Joshua. Throughout the history of Chicago, Jews have achieved positions of prominence in the local, state, and national communities. Jacob M. *Arvey was a National Committee member of the Democratic Party. Philip *Klutznik was the United States representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations and secretary of commerce under President Jimmy *Carter. Abraham Lincoln Marovitz was a federal judge of the Northern District of Illinois. Abner Mikvah initially served as a congressman, then was appointed to the federal bench, and still later became counsel to the President of the United States. Sidney Yates served in the House of Representatives for nearly 50 years, as did Adolph J. Sabath. The tradition of political involvement continues with Rahm Emanuel, an Israeli-born Clinton White House official who won election to the House of Representatives, and Jan Schakowsky, who replaced Sidney Yates upon his retirement. On the Republican side, University of Chicago Dean Edward Levi served as attorney general under President Ford; Leon Kass, the University of Chicago ethicist, who also wrote brilliantly on Genesis, chairs the President's Council on Bioethics and was instrumental in the compromise decision on stem-cell research. President Ronald *Reagan appointed Richard *Posner to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and he has become the most intellectually prolific of federal judges. In recent years, Chicago Jewish leaders have assumed leading roles in national and international Jewish organizations. Maynard Wishner, a former president of the Federation, was president of the Council of Jewish Federations in 1995. Charles H. Goodman, also a past president of the Jewish Federation, was elected chairman of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel in 1995, and David Kahn became national president of the American Jewish Congress in 1995. Steven Nasatir headed JUF for 25 years and after the merger of the Council of Jewish Federations and UJA served for a limited period of time as the president of the United Jewish Communities; rather than "going national," he returned home to Chicago. Unlike other cities where there is a conflict between cosmopolitan and local leadership, Chicago Jewry respects those who assume national leadership, and they, in turn maintain their active involvement in the local community.
The Jewish community of Chicago represents a blending of Jews from many lands into a generally flourishing community that has produced people who have made significant contributions in diverse fields on local and national levels, including eight Jewish Noble Prize winners such as Saul *Bellow and Milton *Friedman. This success came about only after much adversity, toil, and perseverance.
A bibliography of Hebrew and Yiddish publications published in Chicago between 1877 and 1950 shows 492 titles (L. Mishkin, in S. Rawidowicz (ed.), Chicago Pinkas, 1952). The Yiddish press in Chicago was most prolific. It made its bow in 1877 with the appearance of the Izraelitishe Presse, edited by Nachman Baer Ettelsohn, followed in 1881 by the Chicagoer Israelit and in 1885 by Di Yidishe Presse. In 1885 the weekly Chicagoer Vokhenblat under the editorship of Kathriel H. *Sarasohn appeared, followed a decade later by the Yidisher Vokhenblat. From 1887 to 1891, the Yidisher Kurier appeared as a weekly, changing into
P.P. Bregstone, Chicago and Its Jews (1933); S. Rawidowicz (ed.), Chicago Pinkas (1952); Chicago Tribune (July 19, 1893); Felsenthal, in: AJHSP, 2 (1894), 21–27; H. Eliassof, in: JE, 4 (1903), 22–27; idem, in: AJHSP, 11 (1903), 117–30; M.A. Gutstein, A Priceless Heritage: the Epic Growth of Nineteenth Century Chicago Jewry (1953); H.L. Meites (ed.), History of the Jews of Chicago (1924); B. Postal, in: B'nai B'rith Magazine, 47, no. 10 (1933), 299ff.; 47, no. 11 (1933), 33Off.; The Sentinel: One Hundred Years of Chicago's Jewish Life (1948); The Sentinel: History of Chicago Jewry, 1911–1961 (1961); L. Wirth, The Ghetto (1928); E. Rosenthal, in: The American Journal of Sociology, 66, no. 3 (1960), 275–88; idem, in: JSOS, 22, no. 2 (1960), 67–82; Sophia M. Robison (ed.), Jewish Population Studies (1943). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: I.Cutler, The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb (1996); idem, Jewish Chicago: A Pictorial History (2000); R. Heimovics, The Chicago Jewish Source Book (1981); The Sentinel, History of Chicago Jewry, 1911–1986 (1986); I. Berkow, Maxwell Street (1977).
[Morris A. Gutstein and Erich Rosenthal / Irving Cutler (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.