Jewish Immigration to Chicago: 1880-1916

The Kehilith Anshe Mayriv.Built in 1838, it was the first Synagogue in all of Chicago.

At a time when vicious anti-Semitism was taking place in Eastern-Europe, the initial response was for the large flocks of Ashkenazi Jews to flew to the United States for a better life. Of the many cities available for settling down, Chicago stood out for its increasingly dense Jewish community already fostered within the south-side of downtown Chicago. Between the years 1881 and 1884, over 300 pogroms were orchestrated in Russia which led to over 200,00 Jews fleeing the country and entering Chicago, ultimately mixing in with the Yiddish-speaking German Jews that already have had a proper footing in American society and business. The placement of the German Jews and Russian Jews differed. German Jews primarily lived in the South-side and the Russian Jews lived in the West-side of Chicago. Class tensions would become relevant due to the difference in denominations of Judaism each practiced. The German Jews that existed long before the Russian Jews arrived eventually evolved from Orthodox style practice and observance, to a more reform style of practice. Many of the Orthodox practicing Jews from Russia disrupted the Reform style that the German Jews developed. Many Orthodox leaders looked down on the reform practice, as they saw it as an attempt of turning away from Hebrew tradition, and part of the process of “Americanizing” the common Jew. At Reform service, many sung in English rather than Hebrew, and some were able to acquire organs, similar to a Church.

The German Jews of Chicago were responsible for organizing many the Hebrew schools. Inspired by the rapid increase in Sunday schools, and the increase interest to administer religious institutions towards the young, Hebrew schools were mainly constructed along side or within Synagogues. Reform Synagogues would dominate as well as many took over previous Orthodox Synagogues.

Of the many problems that Jews ran into in Chicago, many organizations were created to help the displacement and needs of the newly arrived immigrants. B’nai B’rith was centered and based in New York, which was a Jewish organization and the first Jewish fraternal order to be established within Chicago. Similar to what may have been inside a YMCA, B’nai B’rith provided a bed and lounge for Jews, and they dispensed sick benefits alongside life insurance as well. The Goal of B’nai B’rith was to act as a unifying agency among the Jewish Community.

Political Movements stemming from the two ideologies of Socialism and Zionism shaped the local Chicago pollical scene. The Knights of Zion (1895) were the biggest and most influential promoters of Zionism within Chicago. There goal was to acquire a Jewish state and promote a sense of Jewish pride among the young Jewish community. Of the Socialists around Chicago, many were Russian Jews. Possessing Marxist ideals, many would speak at local lectures about the idea of Socialism, but the language barrier between the Yiddish speaking German Jews would make it difficult for ideas to get across.

The contributions made by the Jews of Chicago impacted the rapid changing Jewish community living there. The new schools, temples, organizations, and political movements would enhance Jewish life and society within Chicago.

German Jewish Immigrants. The ones seen here are working in a garment shop, which was common among new immigrants.
Posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.