The Jewish Community of New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven, Connecticut, was settled by European immigrants in 1638. The first Jews, brothers Jacob and Solomon Pinto, arrived in New Haven in 1758. In 1772 President Ezra Stiles of Yale College recorded in his diary the arrival of an unnamed Venetian Jewish family who observed the Sabbath in traditional Jewish manner, “worshiping by themselves in a room in which were lights and a suspended lamp.” He noted that this was purely private Jewish worship, since the Venetians were too few to constitute a synagogue quorum, “so that if thereafter there should be a synagogue in New Haven, it must not be dated from this.” A slow influx of Jewish settlers began about 1840. Families from Bavaria, fleeing economic and social depression, soon constituted a minyan, which became congregation Mishkan Israel. The congregation acquired a burial ground in 1843. Mishkan Israel was New England’s second congregation and the 14th Jewish congregation established in the United States. Soon after its founding, divergences in religious approach arose, one in the direction of orthodoxy, the other toward reform. The first Jewish refugees arrived from Russia in February 1882, and were followed by a steady influx of Russian-Jewish families. By 1887 the Jewish population had grown to about 3,200. In the next decade it grew to about 8,000 and the increase was greatly accelerated in the wake of the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. By the beginning of World War I, New Haven Jewry numbered about 20,000.
The first congregation organized by the immigrants from East Europe was the B’nai Jacob congregation (1882) which grew into New Haven’s largest conservative congregation. The pioneer German Jews established the Hebrew Benevolent Society to assist the Russian-Jewish immigrants, and the latter established the Hebrew Charity Society in 1885. In 1910, the sisterhood of Mishkan Israel began to devote itself to charitable enterprise, opening a special office for the purpose. In 1919, the three charitable undertakings were formally organized into the United Jewish Charities.
The Westville Synagogue Beth Hamedrash Hagodol “B’nai Israel” Until 1854 the pioneer New Haven congregation met for prayers in a variety of local halls. In 1854, the Mishkan Israel congregation, along with other US congregations, received a $5,000 bequest from the estate of the philanthropist Judah Touro. With this sum it purchased and refurbished a church as its first synagogue. By then the reform segment of the congregation had become the majority and in 1855 the orthodox members seceded permanently and established B’nai Sholom congregation, which continued as a small congregation until it went out of existence in the late 1930s. Only the cemetery of this early German orthodox congregation remains. Today there are about twenty synagogues in Greater New Haven for its orthodox, conservative and reform congregations. The Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven and the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, among others, offer extensive information about the synagogues in the Greater New Haven area.
Jewish Life in New Haven Today
Today some 25,000 Jews live in the Greater New Haven area. Within this area, Westville has the largest concentration of Jewish inhabitants. A wide spectrum of organizations serves Jewish community life in New Haven today. There is the (Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven) which “provides quality Jewish programs and services to meet the social, cultural, educational and recreational needs of the entire community”.
The Community Center also houses the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, which offers programs such as the Refugee Resettlement Program for refugees from the former Soviet Union and The Israel Experience Savings Program (TIES) of the Department of Jewish Education, which makes it economically feasible for Jewish teenagers to visit Israel. New Haven has its Jewish Home for the Aged and Jewish Home for Children, Lubavitch Women’s Organization and Jewish Care Network. Since its establishment in 1914, the Jewish Home for the Aged has been ‘home’ to more than 10,000 older adults and their families from the New Haven region and beyond. Currently there are 218 residents and 70 attendees at its Goodwin-Levine Adult Day Health Center.
New Haven was the hometown of former Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, honorary chair of Beit Hatfutsot Board of Governors, who was the Democratic Party candidate for vice president. Lieberman is the author of four books: The Power Broker (1966), The Scorpion and the Tarantula (1970), The Legacy (1981) and Child Support in America (1986).