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New Haven

NEW HAVEN, U.S. port city in Connecticut. New Haven has a Jewish population of 24,300 (2001) out of a general population of about 124,000. It was settled in 1638 by Puritans who envisioned it as a Wilderness Zion based on biblical law. It was 120 years later, in 1758, that the first Jews, the brothers Jacob and Solomon *Pinto, arrived. They were soon integrally involved in the city's life. With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the three sons of Jacob Pinto – Solomon, Abraham, and William – took up arms in the Continental army. In 1783, Jacob Pinto was a signer of the petition to Connecticut's General Assembly which brought about the incorporation of New Haven as a town.

President Ezra *Stiles of Yale College recorded in his diary the arrival of an unnamed Venetian Jewish family in the summer of 1772 who observed the Sabbath in traditional Jewish manner, "worshiping by themselves in a room in which were lights and a suspended lamp." He noted that this was purely private Jewish worship, since the Venetians were too few to constitute a synagogue quorum, "so that if thereafter there should be a synagogue in New Haven, it must not be dated from this."

A slow influx of Jewish settlers began about 1840. Families from Bavaria, their friends and kinsmen soon constituted a minyan which became Congregation Mishkan Israel. A burial ground was acquired in 1843. Mishkan Israel was New England's second congregation and the 14th Jewish congregation established in the United States. Soon after its founding, divergences in religious approach arose, one in the direction of Orthodoxy, the other toward Reform. In 1846 a first break occurred: a Reform group broke away, for several years conducting its own congregational service.

Until 1854 the pioneer New Haven congregation met for prayers in a variety of local halls. In 1854, Mishkan Israel Congregation, along with other U.S. congregations, received a $5,000 bequest from the estate of the philanthropist Judah *Touro. With this sum it purchased and refurbished a church as its first synagogue. By then the Reform segment of the congregation had become the majority and in 1855 the Orthodox members seceded permanently and established B'nai Sholom Congregation, which continued as a small congregation until it went out of existence in the late 1930s. Only the cemetery of this early German Orthodox congregation remains.

Mishkan Israel prospered over the decades, led by German-Jewish rabbis who maintained close ties with Rabbi Isaac M. *Wise and the growing Reform movement. In 1897 the congregation built a large synagogue in Byzantine style, in keeping with its growing affluence; the sermons, previously in German, and much of the service as well, were now in English.

The first Jewish refugees arrived from Russia in February 1882, and were followed by a steady influx of Russian-Jewish families. By 1887 the Jewish population had grown to about 3,200. In the next decade it grew to about 8,000 and the increase was greatly accelerated in the wake of the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. By the beginning of World War I, New Haven Jewry numbered about 20,000.

The first congregation organized by the immigrants from East Europe was B'nai Jacob Congregation (1882), which grew into New Haven's largest Conservative congregation. Of the 11 Orthodox congregations organized during the height of the immigration period, four remained in 1968. Several new ones have been established as a response to the new religiosity of the last decades of the 20th century.

The first organized charity by the Jews of New Haven was undertaken in 1881. The pioneer German Jews established the Hebrew Benevolent Society to assist the Russian-Jewish immigrants, and the latter established the Hebrew Charity Society in 1885. In 1910 the sisterhood of Mishkan Israel began to devote itself to charitable enterprise, opening a special office for the purpose. In 1919 the three charitable undertakings were formally organized into the United Jewish Charities. The Jewish Family Service, professionally staffed, came into existence in 1939.

By the mid-1920s there were in New Haven over 60 Jewish religious, charitable, fraternal, and Zionist organizations, and in addition the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association, the Jewish Home for Children, and the Jewish Home for the Aged. Community leaders, recognizing the need for coordination, in 1928 created the New Haven Jewish Community Council, to which member organizations regularly elected delegates. Out of the council's efforts there emerged the Jewish Welfare Fund and, subsequently, the Bureau of Jewish Education.

Jewish education of children has improved since the 1950s with the growth of synagogue schools, the Lubavitcher-sponsored Hebrew Day School, and the Conservative-sponsored Ezra Academy. These schools are coordinated by the Bureau of Jewish Education. A community-sponsored Hebrew High School is maintained under the bureau's supervision. The first memorial to the Holocaust built on public land was erected in New Haven and the first project to video-tape Holocaust Survivors was begun in New Haven by local survivors, psychologist Dore Laub, and media specialist Laurel Vlock. It evolved over time into the Fortunoff Archive housed at Yale University Sterling Library. There are seven synagogues in New Haven itself. Neighboring Orange has three synagogues, Reform, Conservative, and Chabad, and also is the home of the New Haven Hebrew Day School, an Orthodox K-8 school. Woodbridge, which is now the center of Jewish activity, has a major Conservative synagogue, Congegation B'nai Jacob, which moved from the city along with the Jewish Community Center that moved from downtown New Haven to the suburbs and Ezra Academy, a Solomon Schechter Day School affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. The Jewish Community Center is housed in a 106,000 square foot building containing an Olympic-size shallow depth lap pool, two full-court gymnasiums, racquetball courts, health spa, fitness center, personal training, Judaic gift shop, Claire's kosher vegetarian restaurant, a library, auditorium and more, all on 53 acres. Hamden has two synagogues, one Reform and the other Conservative.

The Jewish Family Service has served the community since 1881.

Yale University is a major center of Jewish life. After generations in which there was a quota on Jews, in the early 21st century Yale has a large Jewish student body, a Jewish president, Richard *Levin, a distinguished Jewish Studies Department with scholars such as Paula *Hyman, Steven Fraude, and Ivan Marcus and a large Hillel building near the Center of campus, the Slifka Center. The Hillel Children's School at Yale which helps children aged 7 to 13 discover positive Jewish identities. Jewish life is a presence on campus and Jewish faculty participate in the community. Judaic scholars are a resource for New Haven Jews. There is an active Chabad presence at Yale.

The most famous Jewish citizen of New Haven is Joseph I. *Lieberman, the United States senator and an observant, self-described Orthodox Jew who was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000. He credits the rabbi of the Young Israel of New Haven with mentoring him on how to unite a staunch commitment to Jewish observance with his responsibilities as a United States senator. Marvin Lender, a New Haven based philanthropist whose family began Lender Bagels, is credited as national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal with convening a group of Mega donors to coordinate their own private philanthropy with the ongoing needs of the Jewish community.

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