Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home


NORFOLK, central city of the Tidewater region of S.E. Virginia, noted for maritime activities and the presence of U.S. military bases. Its Jewish population in 2001 was 11,000.

The first-known Jewish settler in Norfolk, Moses *Myers (1752–1835) arrived in 1787 and became one of the city's leading merchants. The home he erected is on display as part of the city's Chrysler Museum of Art.

From the beginning of their existence as an organized community, Norfolk's Jews created a network of synagogues. German immigrants founded the city's first congregation in 1844, Ohev Sholom. In 1850 a traditionalist faction seceded and founded Beth El congregation, which later became an original member of the United Synagogue of America. East European immigrants created several Orthodox congregations, which united after World War II as B'nai Israel. Migration from the North, connected to the economic growth of Norfolk during World War II, and movement from older neighborhoods into newer and suburban areas, resulted in the formation of new congregations: Temple Israel (Conservative) in 1953 and Beth Chaverim (Reform) in 1982. After a successful, city-sponsored revitalization of Norfolk's downtown commercial and residential areas in the 1980s, the synagogues there rebounded, and a Chabad center, first opened in Virginia Beach in 1980, moved downtown in 2002.

After World War II, Norfolk Jewry, now predominantly American-born, asserted itself by creating a network of communal institutions: the Jewish Family Services in 1948; the Jewish Community Council in 1950, which grew into the United Jewish Federation; the Jewish Community Center, 1952, and the Hebrew Academy of Tidewater, a community day school, in 1954. Later institutions include the Beth Sholom [nursing] Home of Eastern Virginia, founded in 1980, and the Torah Day School, an Orthodox yeshivah, in 2003. Spurred by the philanthropic response to the Six-Day War, the United Jewish Federation grew into the central address of the community by the 1970s.

Postwar Jewish residential patterns, and consequent institutional developments, followed national demographic trends. Small towns close to Norfolk, such as Berkley and Portsmouth, lost all or most of their Jewish residents, and newer suburbs grew. While some Jews were at the forefront of the local civil rights struggle of the 1950s, many Jews moved into the neighboring suburb of Virginia Beach after court-ordered school desegregation in 1959. In 1974, the Hebrew Academy moved to a Virginia Beach location and in 2004 the United Jewish Federation and the Jewish Community Center of Tidewater, along with the Hebrew Academy, relocated to a Virginia Beach campus.

Although Jews had suffered social discrimination prior to World War II, the Jewish community gained increasing social acceptance in the two generations following. Whereas a descendant of Moses Myers, Barton Myers, Sr., mayor of Norfolk from 1886 to 1888, had been raised as a Christian, the mayor of Virginia Beach from 1988, Meyera Oberndorf, was a professing Jew. Jews were prominently active in Norfolk's urban redevelopment work and a variety of general as well as Jewish philanthropic causes throughout the region.

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