Kansas City is a commercial and industrial center on the Missouri River. The greater Kansas City area incorporates Kansas City, Missouri as well as Kansas City, Kansas, and both of their surrounding suburban areas.
As of today, the Jewish population in Kansas City is approximately 19,000 or 1.1 percent of the total city population.
As early as 1839 several Jews had found their way to the settlement of Wyandotte, Missouri, which was not renamed "Kansas City" until 1889. Among the earliest Jewish residents were Herman and Benjamin Ganz, Henry Miller, and Lewis Hammerslough. During the Civil War, 12 Jews served in the local home guard and another, Lieutenant Colonel Reuben E. Hershfield, was commander of nearby Fort Leavenworth.
The first Jewish organization in Kansas City was a burial society founded in 1864. Three years later a local chapter of B'nai B'rith was formed. The first synagogue, Bnai Jehudah, was established in 1870 as a Reform congregation. An Orthodox congregation, Keneseth Israel, was organized in 1878; a decade later its more liberal wing split off to become Congregation Beth Sholom. Bnai Jehudah opened the city's first Sunday school in the 1880s and Keneseth Israel founded a talmud torah in 1901. As the Jewish population of Kansas City grew, other institutions were not long in following. The city's first Jewish social group, the Progress Club, was established in 1881. In 1895 a chapter of the Council of Jewish Women was formed and in 1901 The Jewish Family and Children Services was established to aid in resettlement and counseling. In 1913 the first Hadassah group came into being after a visit by Henrietta Szold. A branch of the Workmen's Circle was created in 1904. A Jewish Home for the Aged was opened in 1912 and a Jewish Community Center and YMHA-YWHA in 1917. The Kansas City United Jewish Charities, chartered in 1901, established the Jewish Educational Institute in 1907 and a health center, the Alfred Benjamin Dispensary, in 1919. While the UJC was extending its services, newcomers developed other agencies which provided help in ways often more acceptable to their recipients, such as the Hebrew Ladies Relief, the Hebrew Free Loan Society, the Jewish Orphans' Home, and the Wayfarers' Lodge. Zionism had its supporters in Kansas City from the time of the first Zionist Congress in 1897, and several Zionist groups were formed shortly after. The 1920s witnessed the continued growth of institutional life. The weekly Kansas City Jewish Chronicle has been reporting on Jewish activity in the area since it began publication in 1920. In 1926 the Jewish Memorial Association was formed and soon after it received a bequest of $200,000 for the erection of a hospital with a kasher kitchen. The building, first called Menorah Hospital and later the Menorah Medical Center, was dedicated in 1931.
The economic crisis of the 1930s posed a severe economic threat to Kansas City's Jewish institutions, and in 1933 the situation became so bad that the Jewish Community Center was almost forced to close its doors. To meet this challenge, several leaders of the community evolved a plan for setting up a federation and conducting a campaign for immediate needs. The joint drive was a success and since then the federation has continued to minister to the community's financial wants. The trend toward consolidation continued into the late 1930s and 1940s. In 1939 the Rabbinical Association was organized by Samuel S. Mayerberg and Gershon Hadas and in 1945 all community organizations were joined together into a council combined with the federation. In 1968 Kansas City had seven congregations: Bnai Jehudah, Beth El (est. 1958), and the New Reform Congregation (est. 1967) were Reform; Ohev Sholom (est. 1930), Beth Israel-Abraham (est. 1958), and Kehilath Israel (est. 1959) were Orthodox; and Beth Shalom in the Overland Park suburb was Conservative. In addition to congregational schools, a Jewish day school, the Hebrew Academy, was founded in 1966. Adult Jewish education, formerly offered through the School of Jewish Studies (1946–56), was under the joint direction of the Jewish Community Center and the congregations in 1968.
In that same year, in the social services field, the United Jewish Charities, which was renamed the Jewish Family and Children's Service in 1960, continued to offer a wide variety of programs. The Jewish Vocational Service, helped into existence in 1950 by the Federation and Council for the initial purpose of finding jobs for newcomers, was largely occupied with guidance for young people. The Menorah Medical Center, enlarged in 1951 and again in 1960 and 1963, had a capacity of 335 beds. In 1966 the Jewish Educational Program was founded to help assist the Jewish community of Kansas better to understand their heritage.
Jews have played important roles in almost every phase of Kansas City's growth. The settlers, who often began as peddlers, soon moved into retail business and later became wholesale merchants. A goodly number became manufacturers and developed such enterprises as the important center for the manufacture of women's garments. Jews have been prominent dealers in grain and flour, cattle and hides, meat-packing and produce, insurance and real estate, and, in recent years, securities and banking. Civic and political participation by Jews has been significant for many years. Several Jews were on the board of trade as early as 1869. From 1904 to approximately 1934 Jewish aldermen and councilmen sat continuously on the city council. From 1932 to 1937 Rabbi Mayerberg assumed a leading part in spearheading the long, bitter, and ultimately successful campaign against the city's corrupt, machine-dominated government. After World War II, Richard H. Koenigsdorf was city counselor and then circuit judge. Kenneth Krakauer and Bert Berkley were presidents of the chamber of commerce, Irving Fane served on the police board and Richard L. Berkley was Republican county chairman. Early in 1948, when Jewish settlements in Palestine were under heavy Arab attack, several residents of Kansas City called upon Eddie Jacobson, a fellow townsman and a close friend of President Truman, to persuade Truman to grant an audience to Chaim Weizmann, a mission which he successfully carried out.
In 1968 it was estimated that approximately 60 percent of the Jewish population was self-employed, approximately 20 percent were employed by others, and another 20 percent were in the professions. This relative isolation of Jewish economic achievement had its social counterpart in the generally small amount of intermingling with non-Jews. The major downtown social club began accepting Jewish members only in 1967. Other clubs still retained an informal practice of exclusion. The two Jewish country clubs, on the other hand, were almost totally devoid of non-Jews. Yet, the rate of inter-marriage had steadily increased while the size of the Jewish population had remained practically unchanged from 1948 to 1968. Today many of the Jews in the Greater Kansas City area have moved out of the city center and into suburbs such
In the early 21st century the Kansas City metropolitan area contained 12 synagogues, 7 Jewish cemeteries, and several new organizations devoted to Jewish life. The Midwest Center for Holocaust Education was founded in 1993 in Overland Park, with an endowment of $2.4 million. The Kansas City community also sponsors the Village Shalom senior living community, located in the heart of the city. Although small in numbers, the Jewish community of Kansas City works hard to maintain its identity and ensure that its members receive a strong Jewish education.
In April 2014, only one day before the Jewish holiday of Passover, a man with ties to white supremicist ties opened fire outside the Overland Park JCC, killing two people. He later killed a third person at the Village Shalom center before being apprehended by police.
Jewish security personnel from four U.S. cities (Cleveland, Memphis, Detroit and Kansas City) joined Israeli police officers in a tour of Israel during November 2015, to examine the safety and security procedures used by Israelis. The Security Directors for Montreal's Jewish Community, a representative from the New Jersey State Police, and a senior Department of Homeland Security official also participated in the tour. This trip was organized by the Secure Community Network, affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved; Kansas City Star (April 13, 2014)
L.A. Campbell, Campbell's Gazetteer of Missouri (1875), 715; American Israelite (1900), no. 28; The Reform Advocate (March 28, 1908); Sachs, in: Missouri Historical Review, 60 (April 1966), 350–60.