NEW LONDON, city in S.E. Connecticut; population (2000) approx. 26,000; Jewish population of New London and its environs, approx. 3,900. The first recorded Jewish presence in New London dates from March 1685 when a Dutch Jew brought the brigantine Prosperous to the port of New London. Due to the official Christian charter of the Connecticut colonial government, which restricted Jewish and Catholic settlement in Connecticut, Jews did not establish a recognized community in Connecticut until 1843. The first Jews to make their home in New London were Joseph Jacob Schwartz, his wife, Esther, and son, David in 1860. The initial Jewish community was entirely German Jews, who came from communities in Central Europe that were not orthodox.
In 1878 the first congregation, Achim Shalom, was organized through the efforts of Joseph Michael, and a burial society was formed and purchased a section of the city's Cedar Grove Cemetery.
The German Jewish community did not grow, and in 1885, Samuel Cott of Lithuania, the first of a wave of refugees from Eastern Europe and Russia arrived in New London and transformed the community. These more orthodox Jews established regular services in 1892 and formed the Sick Benefit Society of Ahavath Chesed in July 1892. They also purchased land for a Jewish cemetery. In 1894 Kalef Soltz and his son Joseph opened the first kosher meat market, which remained open and active under Soltz ownership until 1995.
In 1895 the Ukrainian Jews organized their own congregation but rejoined the Lithuanian-dominated Ahavath Chesed in 1905 when that congregation moved into a new synagogue. In 1911 many of the Ukrainians reestablished their congregation, the Ohave Sholom Sick Benefit Society, and built their own building in 1919.
New London became a vacation destination for Jews from Hartford, CT., and Springfield, MA., and in 1925 a third Orthodox synagogue, Temple Israel was opened near the Neptune Park section of New London to cater to summer residents.
Conservative services began in 1924, with the congregation, Beth El, formally organizing in 1932. Rabbi Samuel Ruderman of Boston was the first rabbi, and services were held at a Community House on Blackhall Street, with oneg Shabbat and kiddush held at the home of Benjamin Kaplan. The congregation bought land in downtown New London near a major Protestant church but decided to build on Ocean Avenue closer to the beach and to new residences that were being purchased by younger Jewish families. The land in downtown New London was sold to the Greek Orthodox community. In 1951 a permanent home for Beth El was constructed on Ocean Avenue.
In 1960 a Reform congregation, Temple Emanu-El, was organized, meeting first at the Mohican Hotel in New London, then at a church in Groton, before building a permanent home in Waterford, CT.
Just to the north of New London a Jewish farming community was established in the 1890s with the help of the Baron de Hirsch Fund. This community built a synagogue, The New England Hebrew Farmers of the Emanuel Society. The community did not survive, but many of their members moved to New London, two of them, the Gruskins and Schneiders, opening hardware stores that joined a growing collection of Jewish merchants who helped create a vibrant downtown shopping district.
In 1899–1900 the American Jewish Year Book records a chapter of Chovevei Zion in New London, and in 1913 Morris Mallove, a jeweler in downtown New London established the Sons of Zion. Mallove became an active Zionist leader in Connecticut and helped raise funds to purchase land in the Jezreel valley of Palestine, near Afulah. He traveled to Israel in 1950 as part of a delegation from Connecticut to show support for the new state of Israel and continued to be active as a leader of Israel Bonds for many years.
The community organized a United Palestine Appeal in 1925, and worked hard after WWII to raise funds and to collect material for the Haganah. As a Navy town (Sub Base New London) there were a lot of surplus supplies that were collected and shipped to Palestine.
New London was one of the first cities, and Connecticut one of the first states, to observe the national Days of Remembrance of the Holocaust, a program supported by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, and organized by New London businessman and Holocaust survivor Sigmund Strochlitz. He succeeded in having all 50 states of the Union officially observe a Holocaust Memorial Day. For two decades New London was represented in Congress by Sam Gejdenson, the child of Holocaust survivors who had settled in nearby Bozarah.
The Jewish community organized a Jewish Federation in 1975, and the Federation began to arrange for social welfare programs for seniors and others in need of help. It became a federally recognized refugee resettlement agency, and resettled over 350 Jews for the former Soviet Union. It was called upon by the state to be the relocation agency for victims of Hurricane Katrina who arrived in southeastern Connecticut.
In 2005 the Jewish community of New London was part of a greater Jewish community in eastern Connecticut. The community supported: a senior center and kosher hot lunch program; a Solomon Schechter school; a bi-weekly paper, the Jewish Leader; a full-time Orthodox congregation, Ahavath Chesed; a conservative congregation, Beth El; a summer congregation, Temple Israel: a Reform congregation, Temple Emanu-El (in Waterford); a Chabad House; a Hillel for Connecticut College, the Coast Guard Academy, and Mitchell College; and a Jewish Literacy Project for the public schools, as well as several commemorative and cultural programs that are open to the entire community.
J.E. Fischer, "From Generation to Generation: A History of the Jews of New London," in: C.C. Kanzler (ed.), New London – A History of Its People (1996); D.L. Kline, "To Begin Again: The Russian Jewish Migration to America with Special Emphasis on Chesterfield, Connecticut" (M.A. Thesis, Department of History, Connecticut College, 1976); J. Lesser and J. Florence, The Jews of New London, A Community in a Community (1996); J.R. Marcus, "Light on Early Connecticut Jewry," in: J.R. Marcus (ed.), Critical Studies in American Jewish History, vol. 1 (1971); E. Sullman, A Goodly Heritage (1957).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.