return to  Home page The Alsbacher Document  
The ethical testament that is the central document in Cleveland's Jewish Archives.

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

Before leaving for America, Moses Alsbacher, the leader of the group, and his wife Yetta were presented with a booklet by the Jewish community. The booklet begins 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. 

The booklet includes a prayer (shown below) and ends with a list of 233 fellow Unslebeners - probably all the Jews in this town of about 1,000 inhabitants.


Now called the Alsbacher Document (or Alsbacher Testament), this is the central document in Cleveland's Jewish Archives. It has been included in several collections of historical documents. A search on its first words  "I give you by way of saying goodby" (sic) shows its online presence. click here

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".

We also have available pages on Moses Alsbacher, wife Yetta, their four children and eight grandchildren (only two of whom married), their graves at Mayfield Cemetery, the unmarked grave of Moses, and on Abraham Lincoln Nebel who did much research on Cleveland's first Jews - the Pioneers. It was Abe who found the Alsbacher Document.


Below: two pages of the Alsbacher Document. Courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society. This prayer is in Hebrew at the top of the page and then in Yiddish:


May God send His angel before you.
May no evil befall you.
In all your ways know Him.
And He will straighten your paths.



The Alsbacher Document on display in the Maltz Museum

Recognizing the document's place in Cleveland's Jewish history, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage displays a replica of the booklet at the entrance to its permanent exhibit.

It is shown open to the start of Lazarus Kohn's letter in German. "Meine leiben Freunde" (My dear friends) and the beginning of his cautionary message shown in English above.


In February 2006, a few months after the Maltz Museum opened, the Cleveland Jewish News printed this photo of amateur historian and museum docent Nathan Arnold explaining Lazarus Kohn's ethical testament to visitors.


Inside the exhibit another copy is displayed in a way that lets visitors turn its pages. From a plaque on the wall we learn that the Alsbacher Document was discovered in 1954 by amateur historian Abraham Lincoln Nebel.



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 most treasured objects. I can still remember holding the original Alsbacher Document and the feeling of having history in my white-gloved hands.

Arnold Berger  webkeeper and citizen historian March 21, 2014


External links
  On these pages
Soon to be on these pages
  • How the document made its way to the Jewish Archives at the WRHS.
UPDATE  (1/29/23)
Eleven months later, on April 1, 1840, Cleveland's Jews signed a petition to Cleveland City Council. Our oldest Cleveland Jewish document, its only web presence is here on our pages.