return to Home page GENERATIONS  

Starting in 1654, America's coastal cities, first New Amsterdam then north to Newport and south to New Orleans, saw the first wave of Jewish migration Jews arriving from Portugal and Spain, many having first found refuge in the Caribbean or in South America. Not founded until 1796, Cleveland saw only two notable Sephardic Jews in its early years: Daniel Levi Peixotto (1800 - 1843), born in Amsterdam, who came to Willoughby in 1835 to teach medicine and his son Benjamin Franklin Peixotto (1834-1890) was a prominent figure in Cleveland Jewish life in the period 1850 - 1866.

Since that time, Cleveland has enjoyed its share of all the subsequent waves - large and small - of Jewish immigration to America.

These pages will try to document these immigrations by showing an illustrated history of the generations of a successful family of those times.

German Jews of the early and mid 19th century

"German-Jewish immigration changed the face of American Jewry. ... Between 1815 and the eve of the Civil War two million German-speaking Europeans migrated to the United States." So writes Professor Howard M Sachar. Economic opportunity and greater political freedom drew German-speakers (there was no German nation yet) to these shores. German immigrants were the largest non-English speaking immigrant group. A surprising 24 percent of soldiers in the Union army were first-generation German immigrants or their sons. There were even German-speaking companies and regiments.

Jews, particularly these in Southern and Western Germany, suffered under restrictions on occupation and marriage that gave them greater motivation to leave for America. Bavaria was one of those backward repressive areas and it was Unsleben, in one of the more isolated areas of Bavaria, from which many of Cleveland's first Jews came. 

Suggestion:  [read more by Professor Sachar

In 1880, the United States was home to only three percent of the world's Jewish population - some 500,000 Jews - nearly all German-speaking Jews who arrived starting in the 1830's and their children and grandchildren. Cleveland had only 3,500 Jewish citizens.

Our example is one line of descendants of Cleveland's first permanent Jewish settler, Simpson Thorman. The only Jew in Cleveland, in July 1839 he met the Alsbacher party (ECH..) of 19 Jews from Bavaria and convinced 15 of them to come to Cleveland. German was the preferred language of the new American Jews of that time. For many years sermons, much of the prayer book and even congregational minutes would be in German. Discussions on issues such as what language should be used for sermons could split a congregation.

Now online in Cleveland State University's digital archives is the best source of information on the early years of Jewish Cleveland and Anshe Chesed: This Tempting Freedom by Allan Peskin.

Added to these pages in February 2014 (and previously unavailable on the internet) is the most comprehensive study of Jewish Cleveland Before the Civil War, by Nancy F Schwartz and Stanley Lasky PhD.

In April 2014 three pages were added on Moses Alsbacher:

  • The Alsbacher Document - the ethical testament that Moses and Yetta Alsbacher brought with them from Unsleben Bavaria.

  • The Alsbacher Family

  • The final resting places of the Alsbacher family

Starting in the 1850s Hungarian Jews began arriving and soon after Jews from Bohemia (Czechoslovakia).

Russian and East European and Russian Jews 18801924

Starting in 1880, each year tens of thousands of Yiddish speaking Jews, many secular but most Orthodox, from Galicia and Russia would flee persecution, poverty and military conscription. Federal laws would cut off the flow of newcomers in 1924, but about 2.5 million Jews managed to come to the United States. And they stayed. Perhaps 80 percent of American Jews are descended from those who arrived in that wave of immigration.

Our example is the family of Schmuel and Mindel Klausner, who came to Cleveland from Russia in 1910. They, their nine children and their grandchildren made their way in patterns of residence, religious affiliation, education and work that were very characteristic of their times. More on the Klausner family.

Closer to our times are the arrival of Jews fleeing Germany just before World War II and immediately after.

We also hope to tell the story of remarkable transplantation of Telshe Yeshiva from Telshe (Telz), Lithuania to Wickliffe, Ohio in the 1940's.

Jews leaving Hungary at the time of the uprising against Soviet domination.

The wave of Soviet Jews arriving in the 1980's.
We have told, in Dr Louis Rosenblum's memoirs, the leadership role played by a small band of Cleveland Jews, largely "west siders," to improve the lot of Soviet Jews and open doors for them to find new lives here and in Israel. We are working to add one or two family stories of this wave of immigration.


Two sources will be frequently cited:

  • MT = Merging Traditions Judah Rubinstein (d. 2003) with Jane Avner
    Published in 2004 in cooperation with The Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and The Western Reserve Historical Society, it is the essential book for an appreciation of our Jewish History. Extensively illustrated with treasures from Cleveland's Jewish archives, kept at WRHS.

  • ECH = Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, which has many biographies of leaders of Cleveland's Jewish community and brief histories our leading institutions. Where shown, ECH is an active link to a page on their website. Click on it to read their online entry.

Immigrants before and after the Holocaust Betty Gold's story

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