The Nutmeggers: The Jewish Community of Connecticut, Part 2 – The Towns and Cities

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Youth conference activities, Bridgeport, Conn., circa 1950, in the collections of the American Jewish Historical Society. Call #I-337.B09.F017.0041

Hartford

Hartford is home to the first and largest Jewish community in the state of Connecticut. The earliest mention of a Jew in the state was David the Jew, of Hartford, who was fined 20 shillings for illegal trading in 1659.

Afterwards, there were scattered references to the small Jewish community in Connecticut. For example, in 1670 Hartford was visited by Assur Levy, one of the first 23 Jews to come to modern-day New York City. He went to Hartford to help out a Jew by the name of Jacob Lucenae, who was in legal trouble. Levy was able to reduce Lucanae’s fine from twenty pounds to five.

By the early 1800s, the Jewish community began to grow. In 1847, they created the first synagogue in the state, Beth Israel. Moses L. Strauss served as cantor and the city’s first kosher butcher, although they wouldn’t hire their first rabbi, Isaac Meyer, until 1856. They also provided the first Jewish cemetery in the Hartford area; until 1870 Jews from neighboring towns were buried there.

The CJH has numerous sources from the city, including:

Congregation Beth Israel Hartford Connecticut collection, 1920-1999, Call# I-464, AJHS.

Hartford Jews, 1659-1970, by Morris Silverman [Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1970], Call# F104.H3 S5, AJHS.

Jewish West Hartford: From city to Suburb, by Betty N. Hoffman [Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007], Call# F104.H3 H642 2007, AJHS.

Stamford

The first recorded Jew in Stamford was Moses Levy. In 1698, he came to the town with his slave Dinah.

After him, there were mentions of several other Jews in Stamford. Jacob Hart, the fifth biggest tax payer in Stamford, moved there in 1728. He married Esther Levy, the daughter of the previously-mentioned Moses Levy, and their three children were the first Jews born in Stamford. Because there was no synagogue in Stamford — or anywhere else in the state —  Jacob’s son had his bar mitzvah in the Touro Synagouge, all the way in Newport, Rhode Island.

During the American Revolution, some Jews moved to Stamford to escape British-occupied New York City. Manuel Myers moved to Stamford along with his wife, two brothers-in-law, and an unmarried sister-in-law. When his wife died, Manuel had to get permission from the Connecticut governor to bury his wife back in British-occupied New York as Connecticut didn’t have a Jewish cemetery.

For many years, up to the late 1870s, the Stamford Jewish community was small, consisting of only a few German Jewish families. The first Eastern European Jew in Stamford, Jacob Rosenblum, arrived in 1881. He lived in Sharon, Pennsylvania beforehand, and he was the first Kosher butcher in Stamford.

Among the Stamford resources held at the CJH are:

An American Jewish community, 50 years, 1889-1939: The Sociology of the Jewish Community in Stamford, Connecticut, by Samuel Koeing [Stamford: Stamford Jewish Historical Society, 1991], Call# F104.S8 K64 1991, AJHS.

The Jewish Communities of Greater Stamford, by Linda Baulsir [Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2002], Call# F104 .S8B38 2002, AJHS.

 

The CJH has more resources for the Jewish history of various towns and cities of Connecticut, from the port city of Bridgeport to the Jewish farming community of Colchester. They include:

The American-Jewish Community in Bridgeport, by Harvey Gochros [Bridgeport: Sociology Department, University of Bridgeport, 1953], Call#F104.B7 G5, AJHS.

The Jewish community of Colchester, CT:A Century of Modern Shtetl Living, by Seymour S. Weisman [West Palm Beach, FL: Hadeira Press, 1995], Call# F104.C6 W45 1995, AJHS.

Jews in New Haven, by the Jewish Historical Society of New Haven [New Haven: The Society, 1978], Call# 000077142, YIVO.

 

Jacob Heisler, an independent blog contributor, is a graduate of McGill University with a B.A. in History and Anthropology. He is a budding genealogist from Norwalk, Connecticut.

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