Brooklyn Jewish Tid-Bits Part I


The 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 addresses.

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 amalgamated. (28)

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. Brandeis.

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 neighborhoods.


Website: The History
Article Name: Brooklyn Jewish Tid-Bits Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: 28.) A Jewish Tourist's Guide to the U.S. by Bernard Postal and Lionel Koppman; The Jewish Publication Society of America-Philadelphia 1954.; 10.) A Guide to the Empire State Publisher: Oxford University Press--New York Copyright: 1940 Compiled by the workers of the Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of New York and sponsored by New York State Historical Association.
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