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Virtual Jewish World: New York State, United States

New York State is an eastern state of the U.S., bounded on the north and west by the St. Lawrence Seaway, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie, and at the southern tip, by the Atlantic Ocean. Of its 18,990,000 inhabitants, about 1,761,020 are Jews (down from 2,522,000 Jews in 1969).

In 1654, 23 Spanish Portuguese Jews, refugees from the Inquisition, arrived in New Amsterdam ( New York after 1664) from Recife, Brazil, and founded the first permanent Jewish settlement in North America. They stayed in part because they had no choice: they were without resources. When Peter Stuyvesant asked the Dutch West Indies Company what to do with the refugees, Jews who were part of the company in Amsterdam were influential enough to provide for them to stay. While the tiny community did not thrive at first, one of its leaders, Asser Levy , by 1658 had real-estate holdings as far north as Albany, and in 1678 Jacob de Lucena was trading in Kingston, up the Hudson River. Successful merchants, Luis Gomez and his sons built a trading post on the Hudson near Newburgh in 1717, and in 1732 the Hays family settled near New Rochelle in Westchester. During the French and Indian War, Hayman Levy , a Hanoverian, conducted a large fur trade around Lake Champlain in the north, and Lyon and Manuel Josephson supplied goods to northern British forts. In the 1760s, some Jews settled on Long Island and in Westchester. Until the 19th century, most Jews who settled in the area that became New York State in 1788 were of Spanish-Portuguese origin.

Following the War of 1812, improvements in maritime technology and transportation, particularly the use of steam and the opening of the Erie Canal, combined to intensify Jewish settlement. Aaron Levy, for example, visited the Lake George region from 1805 to 1834. Significant Jewish communities developed in Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo between 1820 and the Civil War. During the substantial German Jewish immigration that began during the 1830s, many immigrants settled along the upper transportation routes to the Middle West: Newburgh (1848), Poughkeepsie (1848), Kingston (1853), Hudson (1867), Albany (1838), Schenectady (1840s), Troy (1850s), Amsterdam (1874), Gloversville (1850s), Utica (1848), Syracuse (1839), Rochester (1848), and Buffalo (1847) on the Hudson-Mohawk River route. Other settlements were founded in Binghamton (1885), Elmira (1850), and Olean (1882) along the southern Susquehanna River, Plattsburgh (1861) on Lake Champlain, and Ogdensburg (1865) on the St. Lawrence River. Isaac M. Wise, the principal architect of Reform Judaism in the United States, served briefly in Albany beginning in 1846. There he established the custom of mixed seating in American synagogues. By 1860 there were 20 congregations in the state and 53 by 1877. These Jews were predominantly merchants and peddlers, while some were farmers. By 1909 there were seven Jewish farmers' organizations in the state, and the first Jewish farmers' credit union was formed in 1911.

An estimated 60,000–80,000 Jews lived in the state in 1880. East European immigration increased that number to 900,000 by 1910. By 1928 the number reached 1,835,500. Although most of the East Europeans settled in New York City, others, encouraged to alleviate congestion, went to towns in the north, such as Haverstraw (1896), Ossining (1891), Peekskill (1894), New Rochelle (1880s), Lake Placid (1903), Liberty (1880s), Spring Valley (1901), Yonkers (1860s), Mamaroneck (1890), Massena (1897), Suffern (1880s), and Tarrytown (1887), as well as Ithaca (1891) in the central part of the state. In 1940, 90% of the state's 2,206,328 (1937 figure) Jews resided in the city. However, the next two decades saw a flow to the suburbs. In 1940 fewer than 100,000 Jews lived in all the New York City suburbs, but Nassau, fueled by returning GIs owning their own homes, had 329,000 Jews by 1956 and 372,000 in 1968; Suffolk, 20,000 by 1956 and 42,000 in 1968 and 90,000 at the turn of the 21st century; and Westchester, 116,900 by 1956 and 131,000 in 1968 (the number has been stable since).

In 1902, Jewish organizations established summer camps for urban Jewish youth, beginning with the Educational Alliance's Surprise Lake Camp, in Cold Spring. And Jews made themselves felt on rural Long Island, too. In 1909, a Jewish dentist, Dr. Henry W. Walden, invented and flew the first American monoplane from Mineola Airport. One Long Island company, the Elberson Rubber Factory in Setauket, had so many Jews on its payroll that it had to close for the High Holidays, even though the owners weren't Jewish. The Baron de Hirsh Jewish Agricultural Society operated a training farm in Kings Park and farm communities in Center Moriches, Riverhead, Calverton, East Islip, and Farmingdale. Turn-of-the-century Centerport was the home of a camp for boys and young men operated by the 92nd Street Y. It advertised "the finest in kosher cuisine."

Relief from summer heat, sweatshops, and squalor led to the development of the "Borscht Belt" in Sullivan, Ulster, and Orange counties. Some left the Lower East Side and bought small farms. But farming was not their forte, and soon the farms became boarding houses, then inns and bungalow colonies for visitors from the city. The guests insisted on entertainment, and by the 1920s that became a major undertaking. Waiters and busboys doubled as comics and entertainers, or tummlers, while the social directors became impresarios. Among the social directors were Moss Hart, the future playwright, and Don Hartman, who became head of Paramount Pictures. The tummlers included David Daniel Kaminsky, Aaron Chwatt, Jacob Pincus Perelmuth, Morris Miller, Eugene Klass, Joseph Levitch, Milton Berlinger, Joseph Gottlieb and Murray Janofsky, later to become well-known as Danny Kaye, Red Buttons, Jan Peerce, Robert Merrill, Gene Barry, Jerry Lewis, Milton Berle, Joey Bishop, and Jan Murray.

The queen of the mountains was Jennie Grossinger, who became the region's best-known hostess, and her namesake hotel the most imitated. One of the imitators was Arthur Winarick, the bald manufacturer of Jeris hair tonic and the owner of the Concord Hotel, who constantly tried to one-up Grossinger's. In later years, television, jet travel, and increased competition proved serious threats to the region, and Grossinger's was sold in 1985 for conversion to condominiums and ski houses. Dozens of hotels closed or became retreats for religious cultists.

For 100 years, beginning at the end of the 19th century, Jewish life had a presence in the area. Synagogues were constructed in almost every hamlet. By 1999, 15 remained. Seven of them were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They were: Agudas Achim, Livingston Manor; B'nai Israel, Woodbourne; Anshei Glen Wild, Glen Wild; Bikur Cholim B'nai Yisroel, Swan Lake; Chevra Ahavath Zion, Monticello; Tifereth Israel Anshei, Parksville; and the Jewish Community Center of White Sulphur Springs. Sharon Springs developed as a high-end Jewish refuge. After World War II, Sharon Springs got a second wind from the West German government, which paid medical care reparations to Holocaust survivors, holding that therapeutic spa vacations were a legitimate part of the medical package. Many hotel guests had tattoos on their arms.

Politically, the roster of New York Jews who served in Congress began in the 19th century and included Edwin Einstein (1879–81); Joseph Pulitzer (1883–85); Isidor Straus (1894–95); Israel Frederick Fischer (1894–95); Lucius N. Littauer (1897–1907); Mitchell May (1899–1901); and Jefferson M. Levy (1899–1901; 1911–15). In the 20th century, Herbert Tenzer (1965–69) was the first Orthodox Jew in Congress; Allard K. Lowenstein (1869–71), a leader of the anti-war movement, won election from Long Island, and Gary L. Ackerman (1983– ), representing Queens and Long Island, was host in his office to min?ah prayers each afternoon at the Capitol.

Herbert H. Lehman was governor from 1933 to 1942, and U.S. senator from 1949 to 1957. Jacob K. Javits served as U.S. senator from 1957 to 1981. Charles Schumer first served as a congressman and later as a senator beginning in 1998. Benjamin N. Cardozo (1927–32), Irving Lehman (1940–45), and Stanley H. Fuld (1966-73) were chief justices of the Court of Appeals, the state's highest bench. Pressure from Jewish members of the State Legislature led to the passage of the Fair Employment Practice Act in 1945, the first in the U.S. to prohibit discrimination in employment practices.

The government of New York has worked very hard to take care of the Holocaust survivors residing in their state. New York City's $78.5 billion budget for FY 2015-2016 included $1.5 million in assistance allocated to Holocaust survivors living below the poverty line. The budget was finalized and approved on June 21, 2015, and also includes $25 million for services for senior citizens. According to the New York based Holocaust survivors advocacy group The Survivor Initiative, there are 64,000 Holocaust survivors living in New York City in 2015, half of whom live on an income of less than $11,000 per year.

Israeli supermarket Osher Ad announced plans in March 2016 to open a store in Brooklyn, New York, catering to the estimated 45,000 Orthodox Jewish households in the Borough. Osher Ad will be the first Israeli supermarket chain store to open a foreign branch, in addition to the 15 locations in Israel. The store is Israel's fourth largest grocery chain judging based on sales numbers.

On June 5, 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order requiring state agencies to divest from organizations and companies that participate in Israel boycotts. Cuomo described BDS as an “economic attack” on Israel during a speech at Manhattan's Harvard Club, and stated that “If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you.” The Governor chose to issue an executive order instead of bringing the issue to the state legislature because passing legislation can be “a tedious affair,” and he wanted to take “immediate action,” against the BDS movement. Under the order, the Commissioner of the Office of General Services of New York was commanded to put together a list of businesses and groups involved in the BDS movement, based on “credible information available to the public.” The executive order was signed just before the Governor marched in New York City's 2016 Celebrate Israel Parade.

Governor Cuomo reiterated the importance of Israel's relationship with New York at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Israel on March 5, 2017, stating that The relationship between the Jewish community and the state of New York is built on mutual support and respect...  That will not change.  

As of 2017, New York State's Jewish population was approximately 1,759,570 people.

The 1,759,570 Jews of New York State represent around 9% of the total population of the state. New York City, long the most populous and influential of the American Jewish communities, had fewer than 1,000,000, with the Bronx being virtually without Jews except for Riverdale (45,000), Manhattan having 243,500 Jews, Brooklyn 456,000, Queens 186,000, and Staten Island 42,700. The metropolitan area, which included the suburbs as well as those in New Jersey and lower Connecticut, was the most predominant Jewish community outside of Israel, containing some 40% of all American Jews. Excluding New York City, there are more than 513 synagogues in New York State and some 50 mikvehs. Other population centers include: Nassau County (221,000), Suffolk County (90,000), Westchester (129,000), Rockland County (90,000), Rochester (22,500), Orange County (including Monroe and Newburgh, 19,000), Buffalo (18,500), Albany (12,000), and Syracuse (9,000).

Sources: Wrobel, Sharon. “First Israeli Supermarket Chain Said to Open Branch Abroad,” Bloomberg, (March 13, 2016)
JTA. “NYC allocates $1.5 million for impoverished Holocaust survivors,” New York Jewish Week, (June 24, 2015);
Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved. AJYB, (1938–39, 1970);
C.M. Horowitz and L.J. Kaplan, The Estimated Jewish Population of the New York Area, 19001975;
J.R. Marcus, Early American Jewry, 1 (1961), 24–101;
U.Z. Engleman, in: JSOS, 9 (April 1947), 127–74.
ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: L.S. Maisel and I.N. Forman, Jews in American Politics (2001).