IOWA, state in midwestern U.S. In 2005 Iowa had a Jewish population of 6,100 out of a total of 2,944,000. The largest Jewish community was in Des Moines (3,500), the state capital, where there were four synagogues – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Chabad – a Jewish Federation which is situated on the community campus and includes Iowa Jewish Senior Life Center, a synagogue, and the Community Hebrew School. There were also organized Jewish communities with one or more synagogues in Ames, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Council Bluffs; Davenport (450); Dubuque (105); Iowa City (200), Sioux City (300), and Postville, now home to 450 Jews, most associated with the kosher meat processing plant, AgriProcessors.
The first mention of Jews in connection with Iowa appeared in a memoir published in London in 1819 by William Robinson, a non-Jewish adventurer and land speculator, who proposed mass colonization of European Jews in Iowa and Missouri. The first known Jewish settler was Alexander Levi, a native of France who arrived from New Orleans in 1833 and established himself in Dubuque in the year the town was laid out. Credited with being the first foreigner naturalized in Iowa (1837), Levi helped develop the lead mines first worked by Julien Dubuque, for whom the town was named. One of Dubuque's leading citizens for 60 years, Levi was elected justice of the peace in 1846. In the late 1830s and early 1840s Jewish peddlers from Germany and Poland reached Dubuque and McGregor, key points for traffic across the Mississippi, in eastern Iowa, as the immigrant tide began pushing westward. Solomon Fine and Nathan Louis were doing business at Fort Madison in 1842. In that year Joseph Newmark opened a store at Dubuque. Among the early settlers in McGregor were the parents of Leo S. Rowe (1871–1946), director-general of the Pan-American Union (1920–46), who was born there. Samuel Jacobs was surveyor of Jefferson County in 1845. In the 1850s Jews were also settled at Davenport, Burlington, and Keokuk. William Krause, the first Jew in Des Moines, arrived with his wife in 1846, when it was still known as Raccoon Forks. His brother Robert came to Davenport about the same time. Krause opened Des Moines' first store in 1848, a year before Joseph and Isaac Kuhn arrived there. Krause was one of the incorporators of Des Moines, helped found the town's first public school, contributed toward the building of Christian churches, and was a leading figure in having the state capital moved from Iowa City to Des Moines. Other pioneer Jews were Michael Raphael, paymaster of the Northwestern Railroad while it was building west from Davenport; Abraham Kuhn, who went to Council Bluffs in 1853; Leopold Sheuerman, who had a store at Muscatine in 1858; and Solomon Hess, who represented Johnson City at the 1856 convention at which the Iowa Republican Party was organized.
The first organized Jewish community was formed at Keokuk in 1855 in the home of S. Gerstle under the name of the Benevolent Children of Israel. This society maintained a cemetery from 1859 on and four years later was incorporated as Congregation B'nai Israel. In 1877 it erected Iowa's first synagogue. Other communities grew up in Dubuque and Burlington in 1857 and in Davenport in 1861. There was a handful of Jews in Sioux City on the banks of the Missouri River in the 1860s, but no congregation was formed until 1884. The Council Bluffs community dates from the late 1870s and that in Ottumwa from 1876. Davenport's Temple Emanuel is the oldest existing congregation (the one in Keokuk went out of existence in the 1920s). Des Moines' pioneer congregation, B'nai Jeshurun, was founded in 1870 and erected the state's second synagogue in 1878.
The best-known Jews in Iowa in the 1880s were Abraham Slimmer, of Waverly, and Moses Bloom, of Iowa City. Slimmer, a recluse, endowed hospitals, schools, and orphanages throughout Iowa and other states and was a generous contributor to synagogues. Bloom was elected mayor of Iowa City in 1869 and 1874 and served in both houses of the state legislature in the 1880s. Benjamin Salinger served on the Iowa State Supreme Court from 1915 to 1921. Joe Katelman was elected mayor of Council Bluffs in 1966. David Henstein was mayor of Glenwood (1892) and Sam Polonetzky was mayor of Valley Junction (1934).
J.S. Wolfe, A Century with Iowa Jewry (1941); S. Glazer, Jews of Iowa (1904); B. Postal and L. Koppman, A Jewish Tourist's Guide to the U.S. (1954), 171–77. Steven Bloom, Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America (2001); Yiddl in Middle: Growing Up Jewish in Iowa, a film by Marlene Booth.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.