(By Our Milwaukee Correspondent)
The Milwaukee Jewish Community is the oldest Jewish community in the Northwest, antedating the Jewish settlement in Chicago by several years. Records show the establishment of a Jewish congregation in Milwaukee in 1847, one year after the city was incorporated and one year before the territory of Wisconsin was admitted to statehood in the Union.
The Jewish population of the city in 1928 is estimated at between 25,000 and 30,000. The total population of the city according to the last census estimate in 1927 is 570,000 the Jewish population being approximately five per cent of the total.
To many in the country who know Milwaukee to be situated but 85 miles from Chicago with its Jewish community of about 300,000 souls, the Milwaukee community is regarded as a surburban adjunct of Chicago, but the fact is that Milwaukee Jewry is very much sui generis, and for all practical and communal purposes might be situated five hundred miles from the second largest Jewish community in the world. Chicago influences the Milwaukee community no more 50 than does New York or Pittsburgh or St. Louis.
“JEWISH PROBLEM” ABSENT
There is probably no other city in America of the approximate size of Milwaukee that is so happily free of a “ejwish problem” from the antisemitic angle. There is no work here of the B’nai Brith. There is no such thing as a policy of exclusion of Jews as tenants of apartment buildings, hotels, office buildings, or homes in exclusive residential districts. The good feeling between Jew and non-Jew is eloquently evident in the fact that there are approximately 200 Jewish members of the Milwaukee Athletic Club, which occupies the same social position in Milwaukee as such clubs do in other cities. There is a substantial number of Jewish families represented in the Wisconsin Club, a still more exclusive social organization, which includes the oldest and wealthiest families of the city. Jews are present in the Milwaukee Yacht Club and the Milwaukee University Club. This undoubtedly accounts for the fact that there is no Jewish town club in the city, the only “exclusive” Jewish social organization being the Woodmont Country Club which maintains a golf course.
There is likewise no intra-Jewish social problem here. The line of demarcation between the Orthodox and Reform elements is a very thin one, and there is practically no antagonism between Zionist and non-Zionist elements. Zionists and non-Zionists joined in a successful joint drive for the J. D. C. and the U. P. A. two years ago, and in the last 1927 U. P. A. drive for $50,000, which went “over the top” handsomely, several of the leaders and many of the workers were not members of the Zionist organization.
TWO IMPORTANT EVENTS
During the past year two events transpired of outstanding importance to the community. The first was the consolidation of the two Reform congregations, Temple Emanu-El with a membership of 500 families, and Temple B’ne Jeshurun with three hundred members. B’ne Jeshurun was the oldest congregation in the city having been founded in 1856, and Emanu-El date its organization back to 1869. The combined congregation is now known as Temple Emanu El-B’ne Jeshurun. It has a membership of 800 families, and is of course the largest and the dominant Jewish institution in the city. The congregatinn is served by two rabbis, Samuel Hirshberg and Josph L. Baron.
The second outstanding event of the year was the affiliation of Mt. Sinai Hospital with the Federated Jewish rities of Milwaukee, thus bringing the community a step forward towardd complete federation of social service and communal organizations. Mt. Sinai Hospital is one of the major hospitals of the city, its property and equipment being valued at $1,000,000. It was founded 22 years ago by the Jewish community. It serves over 6000 patients annually at an operating cost of over $250,000. It also maintains a separate building as a Free Dispensary. In a city with a 5% Jewish population it is evident that the greatest amount of its service is rendered to non-Jews, but the hospital, in close co-operation with the ejwish Social Service Association, takes adequate care of all the Jewish cases, free and partial pay. The hospital now receives from the Federation $41,000 annually which amount represents its yearly deficit.
The Federation of Jewish Charities includes the Jewish Social Service Association, the Abraham Lincoln House, the Children’s Outing Society, the Ladies Sewing Society, and the Tamud Torah Association. There are two other social service organizations in the city not yet affiliated with the Federation, but steps are now being taken to have them included also. They are the Jewish Home for the Aged, which is now planning to erect a modern structure to cost $75,000, and the Home for Dependent children. These institutions have been maintained almost exclusively by the Orthodox element, but the growth of the city and consequent increased requirements make it imperative that they become the concern of the entire community.
The communal advance of Milwaukee Jewry may be seen from the growth of the Federation budget within the past five years which has increased 300 per cent or from $50,000, annually to $150,000, annually. Its contributors have grown likewise from about 1000 members to 2800 members.
There are two major needs in the comunity at the present time that are being seriously discussed. One is Jewish Community Center, the order is wider facilities for Jewish education for the youth.
The greatest problem in regard to be Jewish Community Center is geographical location. There is no “ghet ## in Milwaukee any more, and the Jewish population is scatered in three widely separated residential district, two of which, the Northwest and East are seven miles apart. The community would willingly support a campaign for a $400,000 Community Center, but it doesn’t know just where to build it to accomodate the largest number.
Milwaukee is somewhat backward in the establishment of a real system of Jewish education. Its Talmud Torah was sadly neglected up to a few years ago, and it is only last year that its budget was increased to $12,000 annually. So far it has been impossible to organize a Bureau of Jewish Education on account of the reluctance of the various Orthodox synagogue Talmud Torahs to co-optrate, in the fear that they might lose their exclusive jurisidiction over their own schools. Progress has been made in this direction.
The community is well organized congregationally, with one large Reform congregation, one Conservative congregation, which was founded seven years ago, now having 200 members, with Rabbi Phillip Kleinman as rabbi, and eleven Orthodox congregations which maintain substantial synagogues, the largest and oldest of which is Beth Israel, founded in 1884. This congregation has a membership of about 300 and recently completed a new synagogue and community center at a cost of over $200,000. It is served by two rabbis, Rabbi Solomon I. Scheinfeld and Rabbi M. J. Mintz.
Among the more important organizations in the community are: Gilead Lodge, No. 41, B’nai Brith, 900 members. Council of Jewish Women, 750 members, Zionist District, 800 members, Gymal Doled Club, 400 members, (composed of young men who maintain club quarters for social recreational and education purposes-comparable to the usual Y. M. H. A. organization. Sholom Aleichem Gircle, 150 members business and pro-fessional men of all Jewish elements who maintain quarters in the leading downtown hotel where luncheon meetings are held daily, at which local and national celebrities are entertained and heard. This organization is unique and is of great value to the community as it is a virtual clearing house for the discussion of communal problems. It furnishes man-power to all the drives.)
Other organizations of fraternal lodges, clubs and societies, are here to the number of over one hundred.
It may be said that the Milwaukee Jewish Community has no pressing problems. It is not burdened with a large poverty-stricken class; it is not afflicted with a direct anti-Semitic feeling in the city; its various Jewish elements live in harmony and friendly spirit with one another; it is, in short, a good prosperous contented Jewish community.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.