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DURHAM, city in North Carolina, U.S. Jewish communal life formed in the late 1870s as the agrarian village grew into a New South industrial town. The Jewish population, with neighboring Chapel Hill, rose from 40 in 1880 to 305 in 1910. As the region evolved into a Sunbelt academic, research, and retirement center, the Jewish population reached 5,000 in 2005.

In 1874 the first permanent Jewish settlers, Polish-born brothers Abe and Jacob Goldstein, opened a general store, which served as a way station for peddlers. By 1880, ten more Jewish merchants, all of German origin, had arrived from Virginia to establish dry-goods stores. In the early 1880s tobacco magnate James B. Duke contracted with a young Ukrainian immigrant, Moses Gladstein, to bring more than a hundred East European proletarians from New York to roll cigarettes in his factory. These Jewish rollers formed a chapter of the Cigarmaker's Progressive Union and later an assembly of the Knights of Labor. In 1884 Duke automated the factory and dismissed the Jewish workers. Most returned north although several, including Gladstein, opened Durham stores.

Immigrant peddlers, artisans, and storekeepers, mostly of Latvian-Lithuanian origin, created a viable community. Durham was a typical New South mill and market town. Jews provided mercantile services to workers, farmers, and industrialists. Durham's appeal was enhanced by the educational opportunities of Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jewish faculty began establishing themselves in the 1930s. They included European émigré scholars, notably Polish law professor Raphael *Lemkin, author of the Genocide Convention. In 1943 Duke became the first southern campus to institute Jewish studies with the hiring of Judah *Goldin.

East European Jews resided first in a ghetto near the African-American "Bottoms" and then in a middle-class neighborhood near Main Street. The community supported chapters of B'nai B'rith, Hadassah, Mizrachi, and the Zionist Organization of America. In 1951, E.J. Evans, running on a progressive platform with black support, was elected to the first of six terms as Durham mayor, and in 1991 Kenneth Broun was elected Chapel Hill mayor.

Religious services were held as early as 1878, and a burial society formed in 1884, under Myer Summerfield, a Prussian-born Orthodox merchant. Two years later the Durham Hebrew Congregation organized, and by 1892, when it received a state charter, it had evolved into an East European shul. After meeting in rented halls, the congregation purchased a wooden house in 1905. In 1921 it built a brick, downtown cathedral-style synagogue, renaming itself Beth El. Evolving into a Conservative congregation, it dedicated a new suburban synagogue-center in 1957. Beth El also housed an Orthodox Kehilla.

In 1961 Judea Reform Congregation formed, and it built a temple in 1971. Growing into the area's largest congregation with 550 members, it built a new campus in 2003. The Lubavitcher movement established Chabad houses in Durham and Chapel Hill. In 1996 the Chapel Hill Kehillah, a Reconstructionist congregation, organized, and it purchased a synagogue five years later. The area also accommodated a Triangle Congregation for Humanistic Judaism. The communities are united by the Durham-Chapel Hill Jewish Federation and Community Council, founded in 1977, which supports Jewish Family Services, and Midrasha, a supplemental high school. In 1995 the Lerner Jewish Community Day School opened with a religiously pluralistic program. Both Duke and UNC erected new Hillel centers and expanded their Jewish studies programs.

Durham-Chapel Hill's growth reflects the national Jewish population movement toward the Sunbelt. With two major universities and the creation of the Research Triangle Park in 1959 it also reflects the Jewish demographic movement into the professions. Scientists Martin *Rodbell and Gertrude *Elion won Nobel Prizes at the Park. The moderate climate and college-town ambience also draw retirees.


E. Evans, The Provincials: A Personal History of Jews in the South (2005); L. Rogoff, Homelands: Southern Jewish Identity in Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina (2001).

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