Cleveland Jewry Punches above Its Weight

March 1, 2024 | Samantha Baskind
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During last year’s march for Israel in Washington, DC, the Jews of Cleveland were represented in far larger numbers than communities of similar size. To explain why, Samantha Baskind looks to history and geography:

Cleveland’s first group of Jewish immigrants arrived in 1839 from Bavaria with the explicit intention to build a community in the growing city. They were sent off with a letter from their ancestral community offering blessings for the journey and an exhortation never to forget their Jewish values: “The promise to remain good Jews may never and should never be broken during the trip, nor in your home life, nor when you go to sleep, nor when you rise again, nor in the raising of your children.”

The city’s Jewish population swelled to an all-time high of 86,540 in the years following World War II, when economic prosperity and a baby boom, combined with ethnic and racial tensions, lured Jews to the eastern suburbs. As families moved, so did the congregations and institutions they had long nurtured. Today, the community is home to over 40 synagogues, nine Jewish schools of all denominations, seven youth groups, four kosher groceries, and at least three kosher pizzerias. Perhaps most remarkable is the compact nature of the demographic structure, with the overwhelming majority residing in just a few square miles.

The consensus among Clevelanders is that this geographical closeness contributes to the success of its institutions. “Cleveland Jews work so well together because we chat,” said nonagenarian Albert Ratner, a former board chair of the Jewish Community Federation whose family has lived in Cleveland for over 100 years.

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