Kentucky: Jewish history

I just discovered this interesting piece by Carol Ely on Kentucky’s Jewish history at the Kentucky FolkWeb site.

Blintzes and Grits. Bagels and Bluegrass. “Shalom, Y’all.” The jokes come from the obvious contrasts between what we think of as Jewish culture and what we think of as Southern. But the reality is a much more complex blending of cultures and identities, creating a unique kind of Jew — the Kentucky Jew.

Jews were present for the very creation of Kentucky. The Virginia mercantile firm of Cohen and Isaacs hired Daniel Boone to scout out their Kentucky lands; and another merchant family, the Gratz family of Philadelphia, set up trading posts on the Ohio (including the river landing at Gratz, Kentucky) and joined the founders of Lexington.

These early Jews were Sephardic Jews, with roots in the dispersion of Jews from Spain to the rest of Europe and the New World. They followed Sephardic traditions of worship and law and were part of an educated and entrepreneurial transatlantic elite.

By the 1840s Jewish traders and peddlers appeared in greater numbers in Kentucky settlements, emigrating from political unrest, poverty, and restrictive laws in Germany. In most of Europe, Jews were not permitted to own land, so most Jewish immigrants did not expect to become farmers. Instead, small-scale retailing, either through door-to-door, town-to-town peddling, or in a small storefront, was the best opportunity open to them. When enough Jews gathered in one place, it was natural to think of formalizing their community as a congregation.

Among Jewish communities in the 19th-early 20th centuries were Louisville, Owensboro, Lexington, Paducah, Covington, Ashland, Henderson, Hopkinsville and Newport, and mentions the influx of German, Polish and Russian immigrants. Today, Ely states, the organized community includes Louisville, Lexington, Owensboro and Paducah.

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4 Responses

  1. I have an email from Kathryne Robinson, publisher of The KY Voice Newspaper-and Co-founder of The Genesis House- a multi-purpose facility that helps people who want to be Spiritually, Socially and Productive members of society.
    She is looking for a historian that is interested in Jewish History in KY.
    The house was once a daycare for 80 years – run by Jewish and white women.
    She would like to get a historical marker in it's name.
    Paducah Day Nursery.

  2. I grew up in Louisville–1934-1958. Pretty much as described in the article in Folkife.

    i wonder if anyone has early records from 1900-1924. Is there a repository for jewish archives in Ky.

    In Washington State all the Jeiwhs synagogues, organizations, business records are sent to Washington State Jewish Historical Society and kept in special collections at the U of Washington. A treasure for researchers.

    jackie

    • JACKIE,

      WE ARE THE RESOURCE FOR THE JEWS OF LOUISVILLE.

      OUR FAMILY HAS BEEN THE JEWISH FUNERAL HOME IN

      LOUISVILLE SINCE 1889. WE HAVE ALL THE RECORDS

      OF THE TEMPLE CEMETERY SINCE 1871. OUR

      RECORDS GO BACK TO 1925.

      SONNY MEYER

      • Mr. Meyer,
        Do you have any record of the Ottinger family in Louisville? Brothers Marx and Moses were trading in tobacco in the 1850’s I believe, then went to NYC to make their fortune in real estate. But I would like to find information about them from the years they lived in Louisville, or their family members. Their father’s name was Nathan Ottinger.

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