Jewish Rochester

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On Sunday, April 21, at 2pm, author Mary Posman will give a public lecture on her recent Rochester History article, “Rochester, Refugees, and the Jewish Community, 1930 to 1950.” Illuminating an important chapter of Rochester’s past, Posman’s engaging account sparked my interest in a subject I had previously, and regrettably, known little about.

It is not surprising to discover that Rochester’s Jewish community has a rich history, dating back to the 1840s and the arrival of the first Jewish settlers from Germany. These pioneers did not take long to establish themselves as valuable citizens, enhancing the economic, social, and cultural life of the city.

Clothing manufacturing was a popular occupation among Rochester’s earliest Jews, who led the development of this emerging industry. By 1860, the city boasted over 40 tailor shops. These businesses grew to dominate the men’s clothing trade in the Northeast, helping to diversify the economic portfolio of the Flour/Flower City.

By the early twentieth century, Jewish-run clothing factories had become a major employer of new immigrants from Eastern Europe. Polish and Russian Jewish workers found themselves at odds with wealthy Jewish manufacturers as they organized for better hours, conditions, and pay.

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Adler Brothers clothing factory, ca. 1910. From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

Originally settling in the Main Street/Front Street area of downtown, Rochester’s Jewish population soon moved into the city’s near northeast side, around Joseph Avenue. As they accumulated wealth and resources, Jews migrated into the East Avenue/Park Avenue neighborhood and eventually to the nearby suburbs of Brighton, Irondequoit, and, later, Pittsford.

Not always welcomed into the broader social life of their environs, Rochester’s Jews established their own social and religious institutions, through which they preserved and cultivated their heritage. They formed congregations and built synagogues that served not only as places of worship, but also as schools and community centers. They built libraries and lecture halls that became important educational venues. Jewish youth received further intellectual and spiritual nourishment in organizations like the Judean Club, while the Jewish Young Men’s and Women’s Association (JY) offered a variety of physical, cultural, social, and educational activities.

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Postcard depicting the JY building on Andrews Street, opened in 1936. Organized in 1908, the JY was originally located on Franklin Square. In 1973, the organization moved to its current facility on Edgewood Avenue, in Brighton, changing its name to the now familiar Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester (JCC). From the collection of the Rochester Public Library Local History Division.

As Posman’s article reveals, Jewish Rochesterians have long engaged in humanitarian efforts. Groups like the Baden Street Settlement, Hebrew Benevolent Society, United Jewish Charities, and Rochester Jewish Relief Society cared for the less fortunate members of the community. The Jewish Orphan Asylum of Western New York, the Jewish Children’s Home, and the Jewish Home for the Aged tended to the respective needs of children and older adults.  

Focusing on the role the Jewish community played in Rochester’s response to increasing anti-Semitism in Europe and the plight of Jewish refugees before, during, and after the Second World War, Posman examines a significant moment in this city’s history and calls our attention to the myriad contributions, both past and present, of Jewish Rochester. I encourage you to attend Posman’s talk on Sunday to learn more about this fascinating story.

Rochester’s Rich History – Rabbi Philip Bernstein and Jewish Activism in Rochester, 1930-1950
Presentation by Mary Posman
Sunday, April 21, 2013
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Central Library, Rundel Auditorium, 3rd floor, Rundel Memorial Building

Hope to see you there!

~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

Sources:

Kasdin, Phyllis. The Future Begins with the Past: An Archives Exhibit of Jewish Rochester. Rochester, NY: Fossil Press, 2005.

Posman, Mary. “Rochester, Refugees, and the Jewish Community.” Rochester History 74, no. 2 (Fall 2012).

Rosenberg, Stuart E. The Jewish Community in Rochester: 1843-1925. New York: Columbia University Press, 1954.

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