One of the original thirteen colonies which broke from England in 1776, New Hampshire is home to approximately 10,120 Jews. The Jewish population is concentrated in the more urban south and southeast section (Manchester, Concord, Nashua, Portsmouth, and the seacoast).
The state was not always hospitable to its Jewish citizens (or Roman Catholics, for that matter) for the first state constitution in 1784 limited office-holding to Protestants. That requirement was in force until 1877 when the document was amended to remove religious qualifications. However, the number of Jewish inhabitants was small. Early records name William Abrams and Aaron Moses as having moved from New Castle on the coast to Sanbornton in 1693. A list of grants to settlers in 1770 included Joseph Levy, a settler near the present Ossipee. In 1862, the American Israelite reported that a minyan had gathered in Manchester to observe the holidays, but no further report followed. In 1880, a J. Wolf was the first recorded permanent Jewish resident. Ten years later the first congregation in the State, Adath Yeshurun, was organized.
A second Manchester synagogue, Anshei Sfard (now Temple Israel) followed in 1897 as a dissident breakaway from the Adath Yeshurun group. The first building erected as a synagogue anywhere in New Hampshire was built in 1911 to house the older shul and soon thereafter (1917) Anshei Sfard also built its own place of worship. Meanwhile, both congregations had purchased cemetery land, adjacent to each other but separated by a fence. The fence stood until 1946 when elders from the two congregations decided to build a memorial chapel on the dividing line and removed the fence as part of the project.
The early Jewish settlers (particularly from the influx escaping the problems of eastern Europe) came as small merchants and trades people. Few, if any, worked in Manchester's huge Amoskeag textile mills. The first peddlers became merchants, and the downtown areas of Manchester, Nashua, Dover, Portsmouth. Keene, and Claremont soon had numbers of Jewish entrepreneurs. Professional people, lawyers, physicians, dentists, teachers began to appear, often from the first generation of native born Americans. At the same time, economic and political influence grew. No Jews served on the state's bench until Harry Lichman was appointed a probate judge in Keene and Bernard Snierson a municipal court judge in Laconia in the mid-1940s. No Jewish judge served on the Superior Court bench until Philip Hollman in 1987, and no federal judge until Norman Stahl was appointed to the Federal District Court in 1990 (in 2005 he was a senior judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals on the First Circuit). Jews joined bank boards in the late 1940s, Saul Greenspan and Milton Machinist, both in Manchester, being the first, and Jews became members of boards of trustees of the Manchester Historic Association, the Currier Gallery (now Museum) of Art, and the NH Historical Society.
The Jewish community also established its own non-synagogue groups. A YM-YWHA was founded in Manchester in 1906. Over time, the organization metamorphosed into a Jewish Community Center with a community Hebrew school, and later, in the 1970s, into the Jewish Federation. In 2005 the Jewish Federation of Greater Manchester became the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire as the only Jewish social agency in the State. The Federation produces a monthly newspaper mailed to every identified Jewish household in NH. The mailing list totals 3,100.
New Hampshire's role in national elections from the beginnings of the preferential primary in 1954 grew and Jewish citizens, always alert to the political scene, have been involved at many levels in the national campaigns. Gerald Carmen, Republican activist and state chairman in the first Ronald Reagan campaign, went on to serve as General Services Administrator in Washington and in a State Department role at the League of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Jewish voters tended to be Democrats, but many were Republicans. Several have served in the 400-member New Hampshire General Court and a number in the State Senate as well. Saul Feldman of Manchester was probably the first Jewish General Court member in the late 1950s. Manchester lawyer Samuel Green served in the New Hampshire Senate and as its president from 1961 to 1963. During a period of Governor Wesley Powell's illness, Green stepped in as acting governor. In 2005, Debora Pignatelli of Nashua, former legislator, was a member of the five-person Governor's Council. Warren Rudman, a Republican and former attorney general (an appointive post) served as United States Senator from 1980 to 1993 when he declined to seek re-election.
While there were remnants of discrimination ("No Jews" signs were found in White Mountain resort areas until the 1940s), many barriers dropped after World War II. The state's two largest institutions of higher education (Dartmouth College in Hanover and the University of New Hampshire in Durham) certainly were not friendly to Jewish faculty until after World War II. Dartmouth had only two Jewish faculty members in the early 1940s, and UNH one (in the engineering school) until 1954 when historian Hans Heilbronner was hired in the College of Liberal Arts. Since then Dartmouth has had two Jewish presidents (John Kemeny, 1970–81, and James O. Freedman, a Manchester native, from 1989 to 1998); UNH has had one, Evelyn Handler (1980–83) who left to become president of Brandeis University. Dartmouth, which has the smallest percentage of Jews among its student body of all the Ivy League Colleges, has long had a distinguished Judaic Studies program. Jacob Neusner , Arthur Hertzberg , Steven Katz , Marshall Meyer and the current incumbent Susannah Heschel have all served on its faculty.
The demise of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company in 1936 left the largest NH city with a vast surplus of industrial space and a large pool of skilled workers. A concerted effort to attract new employers brought numbers of Jewish manufacturers to New Hampshire. The Blums and Sidores brought Pandora Industries to the city, the Greenspans Waumbec Mills, the Cohens BeeBee Shoe, Boston's Gordon brothers, JS and BD, opened Hampshire Designers and MKM, both textile manufacturers. Until the migration of garment work overseas in the 1980s, there was a thriving Jewish presence in soft goods manufacturing. At the same time, growth in high tech industry with many Jewish participants replaced some of the old industrial base and the number of Jewish professional men and women grew enormously.
As the Jewish population increased, new synagogues have been established in towns like Amherst and Derry, home to few Jews two generations ago. In 2005 there were fifteen synagogues or temples about the state, and most had full-time rabbis. The immigrant community was hardly distinguishable from the general community.
As of 2017, New Hampshire's Jewish population was approximately 10,120 people.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.