Connecticut

Beth Israel, 1911.
Beth Israel, 1911.

The first confirmation class at Beth Israel, 1911, confirmed by Rabbi Ettelson.

G. Fox Building
G. Fox Building

After a fire destroyed the G. Fox Department Store building on Front Street in 1917, Moses Fox rebuilt a larger state-of-the-art building in its place.

Jewish Farmer Journal, May 1912
Jewish Farmer Journal, May 1912

This monthly magazine was published in both Yiddish and English and helped many first-time farmers in Connecticut.

Beth Israel, 1911.
Beth Israel, 1911.

The first confirmation class at Beth Israel, 1911, confirmed by Rabbi Ettelson.

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Early Days

Earliest Settlers and Communities

First recorded Jewish resident: 1659, “David the Jew” arrested for peddling in Hartford. By the late 1700s there were enough Jews for Hartford to have a “Jew Street,” but no known organized community, as Jews were not allowed to worship publicly.  

No Jewish congregations were permitted by CT law to incorporate for public worship prior to 1843, though they may have met privately. In 1843, groups from Hartford and New Haven successfully petitioned to have the laws changed to allow them the same religious rights as Christians. The first Jewish congregations on record are the Beth Israel of Hartford (organized in 1847 but may have held services as early as 1839) and Mishkan Israel of New Haven (organized in 1843 but may have assembled for worship as early as December 1840).

Major Immigrant-era Settlements: Earliest Known Settlement Dates

Hartford: By the 1840s the first permanent group of approximately 200 Jewish settlers, mostly immigrants from Germany and Austria, established a community in Hartford and organized the Beth Israel congregation.

 

New Haven: A slow influx of Jewish settlers began about 1840. Families from Bavaria, their friends and kinsmen soon constituted a minyan which became Congregation Mishkan Israel. They acquired a burial ground in 1843. The first Jewish refugees arrived from Russia in February 1882, and were followed by a steady influx of Russian-Jewish families.

 

 

Bridgeport: A handful of Central and West European Jews, part of what is known as the German migration, settled in the city in the mid-19th century. They founded Congregation B’nai Israel in 1859. A much larger migration of Jews from Eastern Europe began in 1881. In addition to the predominance of Russian and Polish Jews, a large number came from Hungary and gave Bridgeport proportionately one of the most sizeable Hungarian Jewish populations in America.

 

Waterbury: Waterbury had a significant Jewish population beginning in the late 1800s, initially as a result of German immigration. The first synagogue in Waterbury opened in 1872. In the early 20th century, almost 9,000 Jews immigrated from Eastern Europe, with many fleeing persecution. The Orthodox Jewish community has experienced a renaissance since 2000 due to efforts by educators and developers to create an affordable alternative to the high cost of living in established Orthodox communities in New York and New Jersey.

 

Economics:

Retail: Many of Hartford’s Jews worked first as peddlers and went on to open retail establishments, as was true of Jewish immigrants in Stamford, Bridgeport, and New Haven as well. Records show the presence of Jewish tobacco growers, tailors, milliners, jewelers, and proprietors of clothing stores and shops specializing in “fancy goods.” In Stamford, the Lotstein family became one of the largest food wholesalers in Connecticut.  

Manufacturing: In New Haven, the Strouse-Adler corset factory employed more than a thousand workers. Lewis Osterweis manufactured cigars, and Bernard Shoninger manufactured organs and pianos. Eastern European immigrants worked as peddlers, tailors, shoemakers, blacksmiths, and carpenters, and in textile shops.  

Farming: In eastern Connecticut, farming (especially poultry farming) became an occupation for families who received support from the Baron de Hirsch fund to establish farming communities, and some branched out by running hotels and resorts for Jewish families from the New York area.

Current Information

Major Current Jewish Population Centers

The current Jewish population of Connecticut is estimated between 105,800 and 130,000.

Bridgeport area;

Greater Hartford area (especially West Hartford, Bloomfield, Farmington Valley);

New Haven area (including shoreline towns);

Stamford area;

other Fairfield County (Westport, Greenwich, Fairfield);

Middletown

Principal Statewide Jewish Organizations

Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut

Principal regional Jewish organizations

Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County


Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut

Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford

Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven

Jewish Federation of Western Connecticut

UJA Federation of Greenwich:

United Jewish Federation (serving Greater Stamford, New Canaan, and Darien)

Schools and Universities

University of Connecticut – Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life

University of Hartford – Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies

Yale University – Judaic Studies Program

Bais Yaakov of Waterbury

Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy – Stamford

Carmel Academy – Greenwich

Ezra Academy (Solomon Schechter) – Woodbridge

New England Jewish Academy – West Hartford

Solomon Schechter Academy – New London
Solomon Schechter Day School – West Hartford

Southern Connecticut Hebrew Academy - Orange

Historical Resources

Local Jewish Historical Societies and Resource Centers

Jewish Historical Society of Fairfield County

The Archives of the Jewish Historical Society of Fairfield County house thousands of documents, articles, photos, more than 250 oral histories, and artifacts collected from individuals, organizations and through our own research. Our holdings include family histories, family papers and family trees. In addition, there is access to many Jewish organizational records, materials and publications for the geographical area from (east to west) Greenwich to Westport and (north) to Newtown. Volunteers currently maintain the archive repository and are pleased to assist with research.

Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford

Our archives include organizational and synagogue records, photographs, family papers, a small number of artifacts, and an extensive collection of over a thousand oral histories relating to Jewish life in the Greater Hartford region. Many of our finding aids are available on our website, as is a link to some of our digitized oral histories.

Jewish Historical Society of New Haven

Located in the Ethnic Heritage Center at Southern Connecticut State University, the collection contains synagogue, cemetery, and organizational records, photographs, original documents, genealogies, diaries, newspaper articles scrapbooks, and an object collection of artifacts. There is an extensive library of 1500 volumes. The society has over 400 audio/video tapes which preserve the society’s programs, meetings, events and interviews and more than 300 oral histories about Jewish New Haven.

New England Hebrew Farmers

Information about rural Jewish communities in eastern Connecticut can be found in the digital archives of the New England Hebrew Farmers in Chesterfield, home of the earliest rural congregation in the state, and on the website of

the Temple Beth Israel Preservation Society (a Jewish heritage museum for northeastern Connecticut).

Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, Yale University:

The Fortunoff Archive’s collection consists of over 4,400 testimonies of Holocaust survivors, witnesses and liberators. The testimonies are comprised of over 12,000 recorded hours of videotape, and were produced in cooperation with thirty-six affiliated projects across North America, South America, Europe, and Israel. The Fortunoff Archive and its affiliates recorded the testimonies of willing individuals with first-hand experience of the Nazi persecutions, including those who were in hiding, survivors, bystanders, resistants, and liberators. Testimonies were recorded in whatever language the witness preferred, and range in length from 30 minutes to over 40 hours (recorded over several sessions).

Yale University Judaica Collection:

One of the major collections of Judaica in the country, the focus of the approximately 300,000-volume collection, which includes manuscripts and rare books, is biblical, classical, medieval, and modern periods of Jewish literature and history. The collection ranges from antiquity to the present, and includes books and manuscripts from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere.


Connecticut Historical Society: Established in 1825, the Connecticut Historical Society is the state’s official historical society and one of the oldest in the nation. The CHS’s collection includes more than 4 million manuscripts, graphics, books, artifacts, and other historical materials. Materials of interest for Jewish history include the Fox/Auerbach/Koopman/Schiro family and business records (G. Fox Department Store), the Haas family and business records (L.B. Haas Co.); a Dutch/Hebrew prayerbook printed in Amsterdam in 1862; and a set of wicker trunks used by a Jewish refugee family after WWII.

University of Connecticut Archives and Special Collections:

Collections of interest for Jewish history researchers include: The International Military Tribunal records compiled by Thomas J. Dodd, who served as the Executive Trial Council for the Nuremberg Trials after World War II. The records were used as evidence by Dodd and the judges in the prosecution of Nazi criminals; the “The Peoples of Connecticut Project” oral history project; records of the UConn Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life; publications related to Jews worldwide in the Laurie S. Wiseberg and Harry Scoble Human Rights Internet Collection; Holocaust related items collected by Irena Urdang de Tour, who came from Poland to Connecticut after the war; and papers or associated materials of various Jewish writers, including Abbie Hoffman, Norman H. Finkelstein, and Maurice Sendak, among others.

Statewide Repositories

Connecticut Archives Online allows users to search across archival finding aids held by different repositories in the state.

Connecticut Digital Archive allows users to search for digital resources held by different libraries and museums in the state.

Local Jewish Genealogical Societies

Jewish Genealogical Society of Connecticut

Jewish Cemeteries and Burial Information

Association of Jewish Cemeteries (Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford)


New Haven Jewish Cemetery Database

Jewish Cemeteries of Hartford, Connecticut: The Cohen/Goldfarb Collection, 2 volumes. (Heritage Books, 1995)

Publications

Ascher, Carol. A Chance for Land and Fresh Air: Russian Jewish Immigrants in Sharon and Amenia. Sharon, Connecticut: Sharon Historical Society, 2017.

Baulsir, Linda, and Irwin Miller. The Jewish Communities of Greater Stamford. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.

Dalin, David, and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Making a Life, Building a Community: A History of the Jews of Hartford. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1997.

Connecticut Jewish History, published by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford:

  • Vol. 1:  Jews in Connecticut Politics
    Vol. 2: John Sutherland and Marsha Lotstein, eds., 1843-1943: One Hundred Years of Jewish Congregations in Connecticut: An Architectural Survey (1991)

  • Vol. 3: Witness to War 1941-45 – The Soviet Jewish Experience (2001)

  • Vol. 4: Mary Donohue and Briann Greenfield, A Life of the Land: Connecticut’s Jewish Farmers (2010)

  • Vol. 5 Holly Hutton, A Brief Look Back: A Historical Overview of the Jewish Legal Community of Hartford, Connecticut (2014)

Hoffman, Betty, ed. A History of Jewish Connecticut: Mensches, Migrants and Mitzvahs. Charleston, South Carolina: History Press, 2010.

Hoffman, Betty. Jewish Hearts: A Study of Dynamic Ethnicity in the United States and the Soviet Union. Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 2001.

Hoffman, Betty. Jewish West Hartford: From City to Suburb. Charleston, South Carolina: History Press, 2017.  

Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford. Jewish Community of Hartford. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2016.

Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven, Jews in New Haven – 10 volumes.  

Koenig, Samuel. An American Jewish Community: The Story of the Jews in Stamford, Connecticut. Federal Writers Project, 1940; reprinted by the Stamford Jewish Historical Society, 1991.

Silverman, Morris. Hartford Jews, 1659-1970. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1970.

Walden, Joan, ed. Remembering the Old Neighborhood: Stories from Hartford’s North End West Hartford, Connecticut: Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford, 2009.

Walden, Joan, and Susan Juster Viner, eds. Revisiting Our Neighborhoods: Stories from Hartford’s Past. West Hartford, Connecticut: Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford, 2013.

Articles on Jewish history in Connecticut Explored: The Magazine of Connecticut History

Mary Donohue, “Gaining Religious Equality,” Connecticut Explored (Spring 2016).  

Mary Donohue, “Sophie Tucker, Last of the Red-Hot Mamas,” Connecticut Explored 4:4 (Fall 2006).

Mary Donohue, "The Connecticut Catskills: Jewish Resorts and Vacationers,” Connecticut Explored (Summer 2018).

Mary Donohue and Kenneth Libo, “Hebrew Tillers of the Soil,” Connecticut Explored 4:2 (Spring 2006).

Nancy Finlay, "Elbert Weinberg’s Enduring Monuments,” Connecticut Explored 17:1 (Winter 2018).

Robert Gregson, "Josef and Anni Albers in Connecticut,” Connecticut Explored 17:1 (Winter 2018).

Betty Hoffman, "The Handkerchief Brigade Connecticut Explored" (Fall 2016).

Marsha Lotstein, “Jews in Hartford: Making Their Presence Known,” Connecticut Explored 3:3 (Summer 2005).  

Ethan Manis, “Abraham Ribicoff Turns Connecticut Blue” Connecticut Explored (Spring 2016).

Grating the Nutmeg: The Podcast of Connecticut History

Connecticut’s Jewish Farmers,” Grating the Nugmeg: The Podcast of Connecticut History, podcast audio, May 3, 2020.

Department Stores, G. Fox, and the Black Freedom Movement,” Grating the Nutmeg: The Podcast of Connecticut History, podcast audio, June 17, 2019.

Fair Housing, Unfair Housing Practices Affecting Jews and African-Americans,” Grating the Nutmeg: The Podcast of Connecticut History, podcast audio, January 21, 2018.

Bagel Beach and Jewish Vacationers,” Grating the Nutmeg: The Podcast of Connecticut History, podcast audio, August 16, 2017.

Post-WWII: 1949 Travel Diary of Beatrice Fox Auerbach with Congresswoman Chase Woodhouse,” Grating the Nutmeg: The Podcast of Connecticut History, podcast audio, July 1, 2019.

"Sophie Tucker: Hartford’s Red Hot Mama,” Grating the Nutmeg: The Podcast of Connecticut History, podcast audio, August 30, 2020.

Famous Jewish People from Connecticut

Artists

  • Anni Albers (1899–1994) was a textile designer, weaver, writer, and printmaker who inspired a reconsideration of fabrics as an art form, both in their functional roles and as wall hangings. As part of the Bauhaus school of modernism, she became a bold abstract artist. She used straight lines and solid colors to make works on paper and wall hangings devoid of representation.

  • Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) came to fame in the late 1960s with his wall drawings and "structures" (a term he preferred instead of "sculptures") but was prolific in a wide range of media including drawing, printmaking, photography, painting, installation, and artist's books. He has been the subject of hundreds of solo exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world since 1965.

  • Elbert Weinstein (1928-1991) gained worldwide recognition for his creative interpretations of religion, mythology and the Holocaust. His works are on display in museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, and in public spaces where they were commissioned.

Business and Finance

  • Beatrice Fox Auerbach (1887-1968) took over her family’s venerable G. Fox department store in Hartford, which became the largest family-owned retail operation in the nation. She was known for her progressive employee policies, her dedication to civil rights, and her advocacy for women’s leadership.  

  • Murray Lender (1930-2012) helped expand his family’s bagel bakery in New Haven into a national brand.

Education and Research

  • Annie Fisher (1883-1968) Hartford's first female principal, she was also its first female district superintendent and was a pioneer in education and teacher salary reforms. 

Entertainment

  • Sophie Tucker (1884-1966) was one of the 20th century's most successful and highest paid performers. A singer and humorist, she moved successfully through vaudeville, recordings, Broadway, radio, movies, nightclubs and finally television. 

Public Affairs / Politics

  • Joseph Lieberman (1942-) was the first and only Orthodox Jew elected to the United States Senate. First elected in 1988, in 1994 he made Connecticut history by winning 67% of the vote, the largest ever in a Connecticut Senate race. He is perhaps best known as the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2000 and as the first Jew nominated for the position on a major party ticket.

  • Abraham Ribicoff (1910-1998) represented Connecticut in the House of Representatives (1945–52), was a member of the U.S. Senate (1962–1981) and became the first Jewish governor of Connecticut (1955–61).

Sports

  • Louis “Kid” Kaplan (1901-1970) was a Russian born boxer who settled in Hartford and became the world featherweight champion in 1925-26.