Virtual Jewish World: Oklahoma, United States
The vast majority of Oklahoma Jews reside in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, the two large metropolitan areas of the state. Extensive settlement began with the famous "run" of April 22, 1889. Jews began coming to Oklahoma and Indian Territory as early as 1875. There were also Jews in the "run" of 1889. Leo Meyer of Tulsa was active in state political offices in the early territorial and statehood days. In 1890 High Holiday services were conducted in Oklahoma City. In Ardmore, there were 50 Jewish people in 1890 and about 100 in 1907, when a Reform congregation, Temple Emeth, was organized. In the 1890s, Jake Katz went to Stillwater and prospered. In Perry, a Jew named Kretsch arrived in 1892 from his native Bohemia. Subsequently, he served as mayor of the town for three or four terms. Seymor C. Heyman arrived in Oklahoma City in 1901, eventually served as president of the local Chamber of Commerce, and later became president of the school board, the only Jew to hold these offices in Oklahoma. Sam and Dave Daube of Ardmore and the Sondheimer family of Muskogee were famed for their philanthropy. Dave Schonwald, a Hungarian immigrant, came to Oklahoma Territory before the turn of the 20th century, served as a penniless section hand on the Santa Fe Railroad in Guthrie, and subsequently became president of a gas and oil company, and a bank in Blackwell, ending his days as a prominent Oklahoma City businessman and Jewish leader.
Jewish history began with the Cherokee Strip opening in 1885 when Marius Gottschalk made the "run." In Tecumseh, the Krouch brothers, German immigrants, came from Kansas and Colorado to establish a business in the early 1890s. A new elementary school building stands as a memorial to the philanthropy of Max Krouch, while his brother, Julius, who was elected county commissioner in Pottawatomie County in 1916, and sister Erna, who survived Max, continued to contribute lavishly to Jewish and non-Jewish causes. Julius Krouch was a delegate to the Democratic Convention in Denver in 1908, which nominated William Jennings Bryan for president. Max Krouch was chairman of the Excise Board in Pottawatomie County under three governors (Bill Murray, Phillips, and Kerr), until he died in 1948. He also was chairman of the Draft Board in Pottawatomie County during World War II.
In Oklahoma City, a Reform congregation, Temple B'nai Israel, was chartered in 1903. Gus Paul, who came from Evansville, Indiana, was a moving figure in the life of the congregation for many years. He was a prominent civic leader and served the municipal government as city attorney. The first ordained rabbi to serve a congregation in Oklahoma was Joseph Blatt. He came in 1906 to minister to the 35 families of Temple B'nai Israel. The Jewish population did not expand in proportion to the growth of the general population. In 1967 the temple's membership numbered 325 families, representing about
In Tulsa, Temple Israel (Reform) was organized in 1914. Its first rabbi came in 1917. Orthodox congregation B'nai Emunah has its origins in a minyan begun by Latvian immigrants in 1903. The Jewish community council of Tulsa was founded in 1938 to raise funds for national and overseas relief. Early Tulsa Jewish life sponsored the Federation of Jewish Charities – taken over by the Tulsa Community Fund – a Mutual Aid Bank, and a Hebrew Free Loan Society.
Muskogee Jewish history began with the arrival of Joseph Sondheimer in 1881. Alexander, the former's son, was the first court reporter in Oklahoma in 1891. Temple Beth Ahabah, the Reform congregation, was founded in 1905 and was heavily supported and endowed by the Sondheimer family.
Oklahoma Jewry, small though it has been, has participated significantly in the development of every aspect of the state's life. Jews were representatives in the first territorial legislature. There were also Jews in the convention which decided that the Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory should enter the Union as a single state. A number of Jews served in the state legislature through the years. Some have been elected judges and county commissioners, and have held important state and municipal appointive positions. There are Reform synagogues in Ardmore and Muskogee, as well as Ponca City and Seminole. Oklahoma City, which includes the University of Oklahoma at Norman, has three synagogues: Conservative, Reform, and Chabad, as well as a mikveh and a Jewish population of some 2,600 people. Tulsa supports the Charles Schusterman JCC, the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art; a Conservative Congregation B'nai Emunah, as well as a Reform and Chabad Congregation. The Tulsa Jewish Review is published monthly, and the Heritage Hebrew Academy is the Tulsa day school. Although small in number, the Oklahoma Jewish community has had national influence. In the early part of the 20th century, Yeshiva University president Bernard Dov Revel had business interests and spent considerable time in Tulsa. Irvin Frank was an early chairman of the National Jewish Conference Center, the precursor of CLAL, and Charles Goodall, established the small cities program on the Council of Jewish Federations. The Charles and Lynn Schusterman family are among the mega givers who support Jewish life throughout the country, and their family foundation is among the most important in the United States. The scope of their philanthropic work has given them international outreach. Among their largest gifts were $11.25 million to Synagogue Transformation and Renewal (STAR), a Chicago-based philanthropic partnership committed to enhancing synagogues and increasing their potential to connect and inspire Jews in North American Jewish communities; $10 million to the University of Oklahoma to establish the Schusterman Center at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa, expanding the OU presence and providing the cohesiveness, facilities, and organizational identity to aid in future program development for the Tulsa campus; $5 million to the World Union of Progressive Judaism to help complete Mercaz Shimshon (Samson Center), a new cultural center in Jerusalem named in honor of Mr. Schusterman's father; $1.5 million to the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE); an initiative designed to meet the challenge of providing excellent Jewish education for K-12 with the goal of ensuring a Jewish presence into the next century.
They helped build Succat Shalom: The Jerusalem Center for Children and their Families, the Parent-Child Center of Tulsa, and the Schusterman-Benson Library in Tulsa.
As of 2017, Oklahoma's Jewish population was approximately 4,625 people.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
C.I. Cooper, in Oklahoma Jewish Chronicle (Dec. 1929 and March 1930).