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Alsbacher Document  
The central document in Cleveland's Jewish Archives

Cleveland's Jewish community dates its founding from the arrival in 1839 of a party of immigrants from Unsleben Bavaria, coming here as suggested by former Unslebener Simpson Thorman.

Before leaving for America, Moses Alsbacher, the leader of the group, and his wife Yetta were were presented with a booklet by the Jewish community.  It began with the signatures of 233 fellow Unslebeners - probably all the Jews in this small town of about 1,000 inhabitants.

The booklet concludes with a letter dated May 5, 1839 from Lazarus Kohn, teacher of the Jewish community. It is an eloquent, prayerful message that asks God's blessing on their journey and challenges them to keep their faith and resist the temptations of freedom.

Known as the Alsbacher Document (or Alsbacher Testament), it is the central document in Cleveland's Jewish Archives and has been included in several collections of historical documents. (A search on its first words  click here shows its online presence.)

The ethical directive is shown below, translated from the original document which had been written in German, Hebrew and Yiddish. We have copied it from pages 2 and 3 of "This Tempting Freedom".



The Kingdom of Bavaria (in green) within Europe, about 1815. The 1840s and 1850s would see many immigrants from Bavaria, then other German-speaking areas such as Prussia (northeast), Bohemia (east) and Austria-Hungary (farther east) would follow. The great wave of Eastern European immigration, which accounts for more than 80 percent of America's Jewish population, would start in 1881.  Map from Wikipedia



A facsimile of the Alsbacher Document is on display at the Maltz Museum. A plaque on the wall above it tells us that Abraham Lincoln Nebel, an amateur historian, discovered it in 1939.

Below: two pages of the Alsbacher Document.
Courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society.

In June 2011 the Jewish Archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society had a program that allowed a limited number of guests to view some of its treasures. I remember holding the original Alsbacher Document and the feeling of having history in my white-gloved hands.

Arnold Berger  March 10, 2014




External links
On these pages
Soon to be on these pages
  • The Alsbacher family who kept the document for 100 years
  • How Abe Nebel discovered the document in 1939
  • How it made its way to the Jewish Archives at the WRHS.