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CINCINNATI, S.W. Ohio metropolis. Cincinnati shelters the oldest American Jewish community west of the Alleghenies. It was mid-19th century America's third largest Jewish community.

Congregational Life

The first Jew to settle in Cincinnati was Joseph Jonas, who arrived from Plymouth, England, in 1817. Additional Jews from England joined him in ensuing years, and in 1824, the small community met at the home of Morris Moses, and drafted a constitution for the first congregation west of the Alleghenies, K.K. Bene Israel (Rockdale Temple). Toward the end of the 1830s, Jews from Holland, Alsace, and Germany arrived, and in 1840 organized K.K. Bene Yeshurun (Isaac M. Wise Temple) Subsequently, numerous other congregations were founded – especially with the arrival of immigrants from Eastern Europe after 1880. Some 21 synagogues have left a significant history in the city, including Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Humanist, and Chabad.

In 1854, Isaac Mayer *Wise was invited to serve as rabbi of Bene Yeshurun. An advocate of "bold plans and grand schemes," he proceeded to establish a series of institutions that became the basis of American Reform Judaism: The Israelite (a weekly newspaper, now The *American Israelite) in 1854; the *Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now Union for Reform Judaism) in 1873, the *Hebrew Union College in 1875 (of which an earlier prototype, Zion College, opened and closed in 1855). The alumni of the latter institution became the *Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1889.

Wise and his friend and colleague Max *Lilienthal, who came to K.K. Bene Israel in 1855 greatly advanced the cause of American Reform. The dominance of the Reform influence in Cincinnati was tempered by the influx of East European immigrants. Shachne *Isaacs arrived from Lithuania as early as 1856, and founded Bet Tefillah, a synagogue thereafter known a Shachne's Shul, and exercising a critical posture toward Reform. Louis *Feinberg who occupied the pulpit of Adath Israel from 1918 to 1949 greatly advanced Conservative Judaism in the city, being the first graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary to hold that position. Strict East European Orthodoxy found a powerful advocate in Eliezer *Silver, head of *Agudat Israel (the *Union of Orthodox Rabbis), who was brought to Keneseth Israel in 1931. Silver greatly strengthened the institutional structures of Orthodoxy. He also helped to organize the Va'ad ha-Haẓẓalah, the worldwide rescue effort coordinated by Orthodox Jewry during the Holocaust.


Cincinnati has offered an active and variegated educational and cultural scene. In the 1840s, Bene Israel established the first religious school, and in 1848 Bene Yeshurun opened an all-day school, supplemented by a bequest from Judah Touro, which enabled it to survive as an independent organization, the Talmud Yelodim Institute, until 1868. It then became a Sabbath and finally a Sunday school. In 1914, it became a supplementary school of the congregation. Bene Israel's Noyoth, founded in 1855, merged with it briefly in the 1860s.

In later years, all the major synagogues maintained religious schools. With increasing East European immigration in the 1880s, Moses Isaacs and Dov Behr Manischewitz established a Talmud Torah, which expanded by the early 1900s until 600 pupils sought to attend the school, when only 300 could be accommodated. In 1914, Manischewitz died, and left a bequest of $3,000, which provided the incentive the community needed. $15,000 was raised in just three weeks, and a new and modern building was erected which served the community until 1927. At that time, changed conditions called for the creation of a whole new structure, and a Bureau of Jewish Education was created which coordinated a variety of educational efforts until 1990.

The day school movement did not resume until 1947, when the Orthodox Chofetz Chaim (now Cincinnati Hebrew Day School) was created. In 1952, a non-Orthodox day school, Yavneh, was founded, and in 1988, a Hebrew high school for girls (RITSS: the Regional Institute for Torah and Secular Studies.)

In 1972, a Judaic Studies program was launched at the University of Cincinnati. An active Hillel organized in 1948 was greatly expanded in the 1970s by Rabbi Abie Ingber, who brought the student association into the larger community through innovative programming. The Cincinnati Kollel was inaugurated in 1995 and, in 1991, a branch of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School, which, in its 10 years of existence, offered more than 1,000 adults a significant experience of Jewish literacy. Similar ventures followed and during the 1990s and early 2000s, most congregations offered programs for adult learners, from the Orthodox Neshama to the Reform Eitz Chaim, and the Institute for Interfaith Studies offered by HUC-JIR.

The Hebrew Union College continues to be an important centerpiece for the city's Jewish community. In 1948, a merger with Stephen S. Wise's Jewish Institute of Religion created a New York presence for the combined institution, and the dedication of campuses in Los Angeles and Jerusalem elevated the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion to international stature. In 1948, Professor of History Jacob Rader Marcus proposed the establishment of the American Jewish Archives on the Cincinnati campus. At his death in 1998, Marcus left a legacy of $4 million to the institution, which allowed for the renovation and expansion of the institution, completed in 2005 under the direction of Rabbi Gary P. Zola In addition to the Rabbinical School, the Archives, the Graduate School, and the Academy for Adult Interfaith Study, the Cincinnati campus includes an Archaeology Center; a Center for the Study of Ethics and Contemporary Moral Problems, a Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, the Skirball Museum Cincinnati, the Klau Library, containing one of the world's largest collections of printed Judaica, and the Dalsheimer Rare Book Room, which exhibits treasured illuminated manuscripts, communal records, and biblical codices. In 2005, grants from the Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation and the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati inaugurated an expansion and renovation program for the Cincinnati campus.


Philanthropy was for many years the hallmark of Cincinnati Jewish life. A benevolent society was founded in 1838, followed by the multiplication of charitable and social service organizations. By the middle 1890s, with the rise of new organizations necessitated by the influx of East European immigrants, a score of organizations, a United Jewish Charities was created under the leadership of Max *Senior and Bernhard Bettman. In 1910, over $117,000 was raised, the highest per capita contribution of any Jewish community in the U.S.

In 1904, Moscow-born Boris *Bogen came to Cincinnati to serve as its director of the United Jewish Charities. Described by Max Senior as "the greatest social agency find that had ever been made in America," Bogen was responsible for the professionalization of social work, not only in Cincinnati but throughout the United States.

In 1924, the organization's name was changed to the United Jewish Social Agencies, its board having decided that the term "charities" did not convey the preventive and rehabilitative nature of its work.

Over the years, the fundraising and social service functions diverged but, in 1967, the Jewish Welfare Fund and the Associated Jewish Agencies merged again to form the inclusive Jewish Federation. In 2004, this agency raised and allocated $6 million for education, elderly services, family and children, and national and overseas needs, including Israel.

Cincinnati Jews have also been deeply involved in non-Jewish charities, and private philanthropy has also played an important role. The Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation established in 1986 has made significant contributions to the city in the areas of the arts, education, children's services, inclusion of the disabled, medicine, and the vibrancy and continuity of Jewish culture. Other important contributors to the city's institutions include Samuel and Rachel Boymel, the Paul Heiman Family, and Claire and Charles Philips.

Cincinnati holds the distinction of establishing in 1850 the first Jewish hospital in the United States. In 1996, the institution merged with the Greater Cincinnati Health Alliance, but unlike its counterpart in other cities, has kept its original name and its association with the Jewish community. In the course of this merger, the reserves of the hospital, largely accumulated during the previous two decades under President Warren Falberg, became the basis of a new agency, the Jewish Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, with a board of trustees which deliberates over the capital proposals presented to it by community institutions.

In the 1880s, a Jewish Home for the Aged and Infirm (later Glen Manor) was created on the grounds of the Jewish hospital. In 1914, an Orthodox Jewish Home for the Aged was established, but despite numerous proposals to unite the two, they remained separate for 80 years. In the 1990s, the migration of the Jewish community to the northern suburbs necessitated the removal of both homes to a new location, and the merger was finally accomplished with the creation of Cedar Village, in which Reform and Orthodox senior citizens live together more or less amicably. The institution is staffed by both an Orthodox and a Reform rabbi, and an Orthodox synagogue and a Reform temple offer worship services side by side.


Cincinnati Jewish newspapers have included the weekly English-language Israelite (now the American Israelite) founded 1854, the German-language *Die Deborah (1885–1900), both founded by I.M. Wise; The Sabbath Visitor (1874–93); and the weekly Every Friday (1927–65), also in English, and founded by Samuel Schmidt. A glossy bi-monthly magazine, Jewish Living, edited by Karen Chriqui, was launched in 2004, and has sought, like the Every Friday, to mirror the range of Jewish life in the city. A Jewish Community Center was founded in 1932 as a product of many mergers and reorganizations dating back to the establishment of the YMHA in the 1860s, and incorporating the functions of the Jewish Settlement (1896) and the Jewish Community House. In 1935, the "Center" opened its own doors, then followed the migration of the community northward, occupying a single postwar location for almost 40 years. Other active community agencies include a chapter of the American Jewish Committee, chapters of Hadassah, Women's American Ort, and Na'amat (Pioneer Women). Chapters of the National Council of Jewish Women and the Brandeis University National Women's Committee were forced to close in the 1990s due to a lack of volunteer resources in a situation of increasing female employment. The Poale Zion chapter and its successor, the Labor Zionists of Cincinnati, enjoyed a 52-year life before concluding activities in 1980. Chapters of Young Judea and Habonim have also closed, partly through the decline of the parent organizations.

As in other communities, Jews have become active in support of local, non-Jewish institutions of culture. Several such institutions, such as Pike's Opera House, Fleischmann Gardens, the Krohn Conservatory, the Robert Marx Playhouse in the Park, the Seasongood Pavilion, and the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Contemporary Art Center, display the Jewish commitment to local culture in their very names. Others reflect the leadership of Jews in various aspects of public life, such as the Aronoff Center for the Arts, and the Aronoff Center for Design, Art and Architecture at the University of Cincinnati, named for Stanley Aronoff, a president of the Ohio Senate where he served as legislator for 36 years, or the Albert Sabin Convention Center, named for the physician who developed the oral polio vaccine. Beyond this, the Art Museum, the Symphony Orchestra, the Opera, the Ballet, the Public Library, the May Festival, and numerous other cultural programs and institutions have for years depended heavily on Jews for much of their support and patronage. The names of Dr. Stanley and Mickey Kaplan and of Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson are associated with cultural institutions across the board. There have been two Jewish presidents of the University of Cincinnati, Warren Bennis and Henry Winkler, and attorney Stanley Chesley serves as chairman of its Board. An Institute for Learning in Retirement founded the 1980s by Aaron Levine, a former executive of Federated Department Stores, and coordinated by the University, offers dozens of courses conducted by lay facilitators to hundreds of Cincinnatians every year.

Two Jewish country clubs, Losantiville and Crest Hills, which succeeded the downtown social clubs of an earlier era (the Harmonie, the Phoenix, the Allemania) merged in 2004 to form the Ridge Club. The Phoenix, which was founded in 1856 as "a German organization of Jewish men," erected a three-story building in downtown Cincinnati in 1895, which was restored and reopened 100 years later as a restaurant and catering establishment.


Jews have been represented in nearly every sector of the Cincinnati economy. The peddlers of the early years gave way to dry goods merchants who became the founders of the city's major department stores: Rollman's, the Paris, Giddings, and Jenny's, which merged to become Gidding-Jenny's, the city's high-fashion women's store. The progress from peddler to country merchant to wholesaler or manufacturer especially characterized the careers of those who came in the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s. Those who came in the 1850s and 1860s followed a somewhat different pattern, sometimes expanding one or another aspect of the local business, or opening branch operations in areas nearby.

In 1928, the Lazarus family of Columbus, Ohio, bought into the retail business of John Shillito, a department store established in the 1830s, and made it one of the leading stores of the area. A year later, Fred Lazarus Jr. became a prime mover in the formation of Federated Department Stores, one of American's leading mercantile empires. Fechheimer Uniform was for many years a leading manufacturer of specialized clothing. Standard Textile, a business established by the Heiman family coming out of Hitler's Germany, was in 2004 one of the largest privately owned corporations in the city.

By the 1930s, while the clothing trade still employed a large number of Jews, many were entering the white collar occupations and professions. Jews were well represented in the medical and legal communities. Dr. Maurice Levine entered the department of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati Medical School, and through his teaching and authorship of more than 20 books, helped to integrate the profession of psychiatry into mainstream medicine in America. In the 1970s, attorney Stanley Chesley pursued a class action lawsuit on behalf of victims of a devastating fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club, and went on to defend victims of the tobacco industry and of silicone breast implants, becoming one of the best known class action lawyers in the United States. Others entered the real estate business, and in 2004, a number of areas of the city (Mt. Adams, Kenwood, and the University area) were developed or rehabilitated by Jews. The firm of Heidelbach and Seasongood (later Seasongood and Mayer) were the first investment bankers in the city. In 1895, Maurice Freiberg served as president of the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. In 2001, Michael Fisher became director of the same organization, helping to improve and promote the business environment of his city of residence.


In addition to their achievements in the economic realm, Cincinnati's Jews have long aspired to civic leadership. A 1904 account lists 50 different Cincinnati Jews who held public office prior to that time. Gilbert Bettman (1881–1942) served two terms as Ohio attorney general, then was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court. His son, Gilbert Bettman, Jr. was elected Municipal Court judge, then became presiding judge, and was elected to the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas. Other Jewish judges include Robert Kraft of the Court of Common Pleas, Burton Perlman, chief bankruptcy judge of the Southern District of Ohio, Marianna Brown Bettman of the First Appellate District of Ohio, and Susan Dlott of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Ohio, the latter occupying the Federal judicial seat vacated by S. Arthur Spiegel, also a Cincinnatian. Stanley Aronoff served as state senator for 36 years, becoming president of the Ohio Senate in 1987. There have been six Jewish mayors of Cincinnati. In 1900, two Jews actually ran against each other for this office, Julius Fleischmann, who won, and Alfred M. Cohen, who later served as international president of B'nai B'rith. Perhaps the most important Jewish contribution to civic betterment was the Good Government Movement of the 1920s, which culminated in the passage of a new city charter in 1924, and the adoption of a city manager form of government. Murray Seasongood, the Jewish lawyer who spearheaded the anti-corruption campaign against Boss Cox had a vision of how local government could work better and more efficiently.

Members of the Cincinnati Jewish community have become increasingly prominent on the national scene. Attorney Stanley Chesley serves on the board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, was a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, and in 1992 became national vice chairman of the United Jewish Communities. Since 1998, he has served as pro bono counsel for the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and associated institutions. He has been president of the Jewish Federation, and Chairman of the Board of the University of Cincinnati, 1988 to 1992. His wife is U.S. district judge Susan Dlott. Jerome Teller, also an attorney and past president of the Jewish Federation, serves on the Board of Governors of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and is national chairperson of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Jewish Residential Movement

Jewish residential movement reflects Cincinnati's metropolitan growth. The 19th century Downtown and West End centers shifted in the early 1900s to the "hilltop suburbs" of Walnut Hills and Avondale; then, beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, to outlying suburbs, with movement continuing into the 2000s. This suburbanization is reflected in the movement of synagogues and other communal institutions, but the community faces a problem of increasing dispersion, as well as a decline from its earlier population "highs" of 20–25,000 to the 2005 estimate of 17,500.


B. Bogen, Born A Jew (1930); B. Brickner, "Jewish Community of Cincinnati 1817–1933" (Ph. D. diss., Univ. of Cincinnati, 1933); J.G. Heller, As Yesterday When it is Past (1942); P. Laffoon IV, "Cincinnati's Jewish Community," in: Cincinnati Magazine, 10 (April 1977); D. Philipson, My Life as an American Jew (1941); J. Sarna and N. Klein, The Jews of Cincinnati (1989); I.M. Wise, Reminiscences (1901).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.