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Hartford, Connecticut

HARTFORD, capital of Connecticut. Population of greater Hartford County, 870,000; Jewish population, 34,000 (2001).

Early History

Hartford's town records reveal an early Jewish presence in colonial times. General court proceedings in 1659 mention a certain "David the Jew," an itinerant peddler; in 1661 a party of Jews in the city was given permission "to sojourn in Hartford seven months"; in 1667 "Jacob the Jew" transported horses to New York; in 1669 "David Jew" and "Jacob Jew" were among the 721 inhabitants listed in the town records. Advertisements in The Hartford Courant in 1788 and 1801 contain references to a thoroughfare known as "Jew Street," but whether it was actually inhabited at the time by Jews or Jewish merchants is unknown.

Jewish settlement in Hartford did not begin in earnest, however, until the 1840s with the first wave of immigrants from Germany. In 1847 Congregation Beth Israel was formed with an initial membership of six; four years later it had 150 members "of thriving business and good standing in society." A B'nai B'rith lodge was established in 1851, and in 1854 a Frauen Verein was organized to provide mutual aid and serve as a center of social activities. In 1856 Beth Israel acquired its first permanent structure, a refurbished Baptist church, and engaged Rabbi Isaac Mayer (1809–1898), who served for 12 years. With growing affluence and acculturation, the congregation erected a new synagogue in 1876, and in 1878 dropped its traditional orientation to join the Reform Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

East European Immigration

As a result of the great East European immigration to America, Hartford's Jewish population increased from 1,500 in 1880 to over 7,000 in 1910 and to almost 20,000 by 1920. The new immigrants founded the Adas Israel Synagogue in 1884, the Agudas Achim Synagogue in 1887, and six other Orthodox synagogues in the ensuing years. Two East European rabbis, Isaac S. Hurewitz, who served in Hartford from 1893 to 1935, and Zemach Hoffenberg, who served from 1899 to 1938, ministered to these congregations. They were among the many rabbis who served for more than four decades. Other Jewish institutions and organizations sprang up: the Hartford Sick Benefit Association and the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society in 1898; the B'nai Zion Society, which sponsored a group of 12 Zionist clubs, also in 1898; the Hebrew Institute Talmud Torah in 1901; the Hebrew Home for the Aged in 1907; the Hebrew Home for Children in 1907; a mikveh in 1907; the Council of Jewish Women in 1910; and a chapter of the Labor Zionist Farband in 1914. In 1912 some 30 of these organizations merged to form the United Jewish Charities. A Hadassah chapter was set up by Henrietta Szold in 1914, and in 1918, through the joint efforts of five local branches of the Workmen's Circle, the Labor Lyceum opened its doors. Among the immigrants were some who added new dimensions to Hartford's economic life. Expert furriers from Russia helped make Hartford a center of the fur trade, and skilled Jewish carpenters and cabinetmakers introduced the reproduction of antique furniture.

Post-World War I

Between the two world wars, with the cutoff of mass immigration, Hartford's Jewish community grew at a slower pace; this period was primarily one of further consolidation and integration into the general life of the city. Hartford's first Conservative congregation, the Emanuel Synagogue, was organized in 1919. Its first Jewish country club, the Tumble Brook Country and Golf Club, was opened in 1922. Mount Sinai Hospital, the first and only Jewish hospital in the state, was established in 1923. The weekly Jewish Ledger, founded by Samuel Neusner in 1929, with Rabbi Abraham J. Feldman as editor, has chronicled Jewish activity in the city. In 1935 a Jewish Community Council was formed, and in 1937, the Jewish Welfare Fund; the merger of these two organizations into a single Federation in 1945 united all Jewish communal and philanthropic endeavors under one roof. A Yeshiva Day School, established in 1940 and later renamed the Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy of Greater Hartford, had nine grades, with several hundred students, in 1970. An eight grade Solomon Schechter Day School affiliated with the Conservative movement opened in 1971 and a Hebrew High School, supported by the communities of Springfield, MA, New Haven, and Hartford opened in 1996. By the mid 1990s more than 400 youngsters in the Greater Hartford area were receiving an intensive Jewish day school education.

During the post-World War II period, Jewish community life in Greater Hartford centered around the city's synagogues – 11 Conservative, eight Orthodox, and three Reform – and around its Jewish Community Center, built in 1955, with over 7,000 members. Prominent rabbis in the community have included Morris *Silverman (1923–1961), who edited and translated the standard siddur that was used in Conservative Congregations for half a century or more, Abraham J. Feldman (1925–1968), Abraham AvRutick (1946–1982), and William Cohen (1946–1994). In all, Greater Hartford had 132 Jewish philanthropic, religious, cultural, and social organizations (1970). During the post-war years, Hartford's religious leadership was unusually stable with many rabbis serving in their congregations for more than three decades including Rabbis Stanley Kessler (Beth El, 1954–1994); Hans Bodenheimer (Tikvoh Chadoshoh, 1942–1996); Henry Okolica (Tifereth Israel, New Britain, 1960–1993); Philip Lazowski (Beth Hillel, 1962–1995); Isaac Avigdor (United Synagogues, 1954–1993); Haskel Lindenthal (Teferes Israel, 1956–1993); Harry Zwelling (B'nai Israel, New Britain, 1936–1971); and Leon Wind (Beth Shalom, Manchester, 1946–1979).

The economic life of the Jewish population is concentrated in the professions and in business. Over one-fifth of Hartford's doctors, approximately one-third of its dentists and attorneys, and one-half of its certified public accountants are Jews. Jews own over half of Hartford's retail businesses, although, in the 1960s, fewer than 2% of the city's commercial bank executives and barely 1% of the executives in the 10 largest insurance companies were Jewish. In the last quarter of the 20th century those percentages changed dramatically as Jewish professional life increased, obstacles to Jews entering banking and insurance ended, and large chain stores replaced small retailers on many Main Streets in the United States. At the University of Hartford Jews comprise roughly 20% of the faculty and 33% of the student body. As is the tendency elsewhere, Hartford's Jews moved in increasing numbers to the suburbs, so that in 1970 the majority lived outside the city proper. There was a great white flight to the suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s and many of the synagogues and Jewish institutions were relocated from Hartford to West Hartford. In the 1990s Jews moved further into other surrounding communities including Glastonbury and the Farmington Valley towns of Farmington, Avon, and Simsbury.

Jews in Public Life

Between 1860 and 1969, 102 Jews were elected to city and town councils; 34 served in the state legislature since 1919. In 1933 Herman P. *Kopplemann became the first Jew from Hartford to be elected to Congress, where he served four terms. Some Hartfordites holding public office were Morris Silverman, chairman and member of the Connecticut State Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities from 1943; Bernard Shapiro, state welfare commissioner during 1959–70; Elisha Freedman, city manager, from 1963; M. Joseph Blumenfield, U.S. District Court judge from 1964; and Louis Shapiro and Abraham S. Bordon on the state judiciary. Annie Fisher was the first Jewish district superintendent of schools. During the mid to late 20th century, Hartford's best-known Jewish citizen was Abraham A. *Ribicoff , who was governor of Connecticut, served in the Cabinet of John F. Kennedy, and was then elected to the Senate.

Jews have played an active role in Hartford's educational and cultural life. They are prominent in the University of Hartford, Trinity College, and the Hartford Symphony. A Jewish president, Stephen J. Tractenberg significantly improved the University of Hartford and during his tenure the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies was established. Trinity College also has a Judaic Studies program that adds to the intellectual life of the community.


M. Silverman, Hartford Jews: 16591969 (1970). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: D.G. Dalin, J. Rosenbaum, and D.C. Dalin, Making a Life, Building a Community: A History of the Jews of Hartford (1997).

[Morris Silverman /

Leon Chameides (2nd ed.)]

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