Jewish community of New York City was almost 180 years old when permanent Jewish
settlement began in Brooklyn in the 1830s. There is evidence, however, that the
history of Brooklyn Jewry goes back to the 17th century.
In the 1660s and 1670s, Asser Levy owned considerable property in the old Dutch
settlement of Breucklen, as Brooklyn used to be called. Then, on August 15,
1683, the colonial courthouse at Flatbush recorded that "The worthy Abraham
Franckfoort, a Jew, residing in N. Jorck (New York) and Peter Stryker, residing
in Vlackebos (Flatbush)" had entered into a business arrangement. The original
record is in the archives of Kings County (Brooklyn). Town records of New Lots,
Gravesend, New Utrecht, Williamsburg and other villages that later became part
of Brooklyn indicate that a number of Jews were property-owners there in the
first decades of the eighteenth century. The Jacob Franks family owned a summer
home in Flatbush.
Several Jews were with the American forces during the Battle of Long Island,
which was fought on Brooklyn soil. Samuel Noah, a relative of Mordecai M. Noah
and a graduate of the 1807 class at West Point, helped build the defenses of
Brooklyn against an anticipated British attack during the War of 1812.
The first permanent Jewish settlers in Brooklyn are believed to have been Jewish
businessmen, of Bavarian and Alsatian origina, who established themselves around
lower Fulton Street in what is now the Boro Hall section. They arrived about
1834, the year Brooklyn received its municipal charter. The 1838 directory
listed a Benjamin Levy as owner of a variety store; Daniel Levy, cartman;
another Benjamin Levy, auctioneer, and a Moses family all with Fulton Street
Williamsburg, an independent town north of Brooklyn, developed a separate Jewish
community. The earliest known Jewish resident was Adolph Baker, who settled in
Williamsburg in 1837. Other Jews began crossing the East River in the 1840s and
settling around Lower Grand Street. In 1855, Williamsburg and Brooklyn were
According t o legend, Jews from Boro Hall and Williamsburg used to row across
the river to New York on Friday afternoon for worship services and return on
Sunday. Both groups seem to have tired of the weekend journey in the 1840's, for
that is when they began to hold their own services in private homes. Another
widely recorded tradition was that, until a minyan of Brooklyn residents could
be mustered, arrangements were made for several worshippers to come over from
Manhattan every weekend.
In any case, not until the 1850s was there any public worship by Jews anywhere
in Brooklyn. In 1851, Kahal Kodesh Beth Elohim, the first Jewish congregation in
Brooklyn and as a matter of fact, in all of Long island, was organized by a
number of men led by Louis Reinhardt, Elias Adler, Isaac Mayer, Moses Kessel and
Isaac Eiseman. The congregation's first reader and cantor was David Barnard, who
is listed in Williamsburg's 1849 directory as "Hebrew teacher" and also as
"fancy grocer." A rented hall on North 2nd street and what is now Marcy Ave. was
Beth Elohim's first house of worship after the congregation outgrew Moses Beth
Elohim's first synagogue__the Keap Street Building erected.
This was Brooklyn's second synagogue. The first was dedicated in 1862 at the
corner of Boerum Place and State Street by Congregation Beth Israel, which had
been formed by the Boro Hall group in 1854 under the leadership of Solomon
Furth, Morris Ehrlich, Morris Hess and Marks Marks.
These two pioneer congregations fathered most of the other congregations founded
in Brooklyn before the 1880s. In 1921, Williamsburg's Beth Elohim was
consolidated with Temple Israel, established in 1869, to form Union Temple.
Secessionists from Beth Israel created another congregation, called Beth Elohim,
in 1861. Popularly known today as the Garfield Place Temple, this was Brooklyn's
first Reform congregation. Other offshoots of Beth Israel were Congregation
Ahavath Achim, founded in 1868, and Beth Jacob, organized in Williamsburg in
1867 and later merged with Anshe Sholom. (10)
Among the Jewish residents of Brooklyn in the 1850s and 1860s were three
refugees from the 1848 revolutions in Europe who helped make American history:
Dr. Joseph Goldmark, Sigismund Kaufmann and Michael Heilprin.
Physician, chemist and leader in the March 1848 revolution in Vienna, Goldmark
fled to America in 1850. He resided in Brooklyn from 1858 until some years after
the civil war, manufacturing percussion caps and cartridges in a Brooklyn
factory for the Union Army. In 1863, draft rioters set fire to the factory. One
of those detailed to protect the premises from further attack was Solomon Furth,
first president of Congregation Beth Israel and a member of a National guard
cavalry regiment. Goldmark's daugher, Alice, became the wife of Louis D.
Kaufmann, who had participated in the German revolution of 1848 and settled in
Brooklyn about 1849, was a founder of the Republican Party in Brooklyn, as was
Goldmark. Employed in a pocketbook factory by day, he taught French and German
at night and also studied law. When General John Fremont became the Republican
Party's first presidential nominee in 1856, Kaufmann campaigned for him. He was
one of the draft board judges in 1863 when New York and Brooklyn were bedeviled
by draft riots. Three years prior to that he had been named a Lincoln
presidential elector. When Lincoln became President, he offered Kaufmann an
appointment as minister to Italy, but Kaufmann declined.
In 1869, Kaufmann was an unsuccessful candidate for the state senate from
Brooklyn, and the following year he was defeated as the Republican nominee for
lieutenant governor. A key figure in the German-American Turn Verein, Kaufmann
presided over the meeting that resulted in the establishment of the Brooklyn
Hebrew Orphan Asylum in 1878.
Heilprin, a political refugee from Hungary, was a well known Jewish scholar.
Morris Hess was one of Brooklyn's most ardent supporters of Lincoln. Frederick
Loeser and Abraham Abrahams, founders of well-known mercantile establishments,
were in Brooklyn by 1865. (28)
During the '80s and '90s, large numbers of East European Jews crossed the East
River to Williamsburg, where they established their own synagogues and other
institutions even before the older communities started to move on to the
Bedford, Greenpoint and Stuyvesant Heights sections.
The arrival of hundreds of thousands of additional Jews from Russia. Poland and
Rumania after 1900 and the razing of whole blocks of East Side tenements to make
way for the Williamsburg Bridge caused another great surge of Jewish migration
to Brooklyn, which became part of New York City in 1898.
Newly-built elevated lines and the opening of the Williamsburg and Manhattan
Bridges in the early 1900s, extension of the subway to more distant Brooklyn
areas after World War I and the availability of inexpensive one and two-family
houses and modern apartment houses within easy reach of New York factories gave
impetus to new waves of Jewish migration to Brooklyn as well as to movement
within the borough.
From Williamsburg, the Jewish population spilled over into Eastern Parkway and
Crown Heights, and then to Borough Park, Bensonhurst, Coney Island, Manhattan
Beach, Brighton Beach, Flatbush, Fort Hamilton and Bay Ridge. Each population
shift created new communities as the newcomers organized their own institutions
while the older synagogues followed their congregants to the newer