History of LDS - Jewish Connections
Jews of Temple Square:
historical summary in
The Jews of Temple Square
By Schelly Talalay
(November 26, 2001 Jerusalem Post)
-- Utah, the
"Mormon state" has also been
home to Jews since the 1850s
More than 100 years ago, the
religious majority in a certain
US southwestern state intended
to restore the Jews to Palestine
and establish a "second Zion."
Known as the Mormons, they
are still in the majority, members
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and
the state is Utah.
Self-proclaimed as one of the Lost Tribes of Israel,
Mormon theology supports the re-creation of Israel as
the precursor of the return of Christ and the beginning of
Mormonism was founded in the US by Joseph Smith in
1830, and its adherents were led by Brigham Young to
the Great Salt Lake Valley in July 1847, searching for
The history of US westward expansion is fascinating, and
Utah is only a small part of the panorama.
Jewish editor and historian Eileen Hallet Stone of Salt
Lake City believes the first Jewish family arrived soon
after 1847. Although the Mormon flight to the West was
for religious liberty, says Eileen, Western Jewish
migration was spurred more by a sense of adventure,
economics and personal freedom. But, she says, most
histories of the American West ignore the Jewish
Early Jewish entrepreneurs supplied itinerant miners
racing westward for gold. From tent stores along railroad
lines they offered picks, shovels, clothes, food and
Although the first Jews (trappers, traders, explorers) had
passed through the area in the 1820s, the first permanent
Jewish residents arrived 30 years later.
Emanuel Lazarus was one of a 16-man trapping and
exploring party in 1826, camping near the Great Salt
Lake in what would eventually become Salt Lake City.
Moses Schallenberger, 17, was part of an 1844 trading
party also camped there.
The 1849 Gold Rush brought German and Hungarian
Jews to Utah by wagon train - they were too late to
register California gold claims and stopped in Utah. The
first Jewish business in SLC was the 1853 millinery shop
of Julius and Gerson Brooks, formerly of Illinois.
Other European Jews travelled around Cape Horn to
San Francisco, while US Army troops stationed at
Camp Floyd in 1847 attracted more Jewish merchants.
Nicholas Siegfried Ransohoff brought freight from the
West Coast to supply troops and ran a freight company.
Samuel H. Auerbach and Samuel Kahn came from
California with goods, so did George Bodenberg in
1857; Kahn and Bodenberg were SLC grocers.
Frederick Auerbach joined his brothers in an early
banking company and later in Auerbach's Department
Store, second in size to ZCMI. Butcher Charles Popper
had a shop in 1864 and later opened the first soap and
Yom Kippur was observed in 1864 in a Jewish
merchant's home; the Hebrew Benevolent Society was
established. Religious services were held in Masonic Hall
in spring 1866, and the first Jewish cemetery was
established on land given by Mormon leader Brigham
Young. The 1867 High Holy Days were held in premises
also provided by Young.
For a few years, Jewish settlement was opposed by the
Mormons, who had first welcomed them. All
non-Mormons are termed Gentiles by the LDS
members, and problems arose as the increasing numbers
of Gentiles in the 1850s-60s were a perceived threat to
From 1866-69, some Gentiles were murdered, more
beaten, and all suffered from strictly-enforced
commercial boycotts. In 1868, Young established the
ZCMI store and ordered Mormons to trade there, in
competition with Jewish-owned Auerbach's.
Completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1879 and
mining development showed the Mormons their isolation
could not be sustained. Utah became a state and hostile
LEST anyone think that disagreement among Judaism's
streams is a contemporary issue, be aware that in
America's West, there were problems in the 1880s.
Congregation Bnai Israel (BI) was established in 1873.
The Salt Lake Tribune wrote about its Passover
observance in 1876, when the community had about 40
families. In 1878, discussions began about a building.
Land was bought in 1881, a brick school was built, and
a synagogue two years later.
Services were basically Or.thodox, to the distaste of
the liberal German congregants. After a year, the
congregation decided to follow the Reform service. A
Reform rabbi was employed, but lasted only 10 months.
In 1885, Orthodox members resigned and BI became a
Reform congregation for the next 85 years.
The early Germans were outnumbered by Eastern
European immigrants after 1880. The Russian and Polish
Jews were primarily Orthodox. BI sold its old building in
1889, a new one was dedicated in 1891 whose
membership stood at 82 families.
Orthodox families held services at home and called
themselves Congregation Montefiore, in ho.nor of Sir
Moses Montefiore of England. In 1902, Morris Levy
donated land and Isadore Morris gave gold dust worth
$150 to begin contributions toward a new synagogue.
The cornerstone was laid August 13, 1903, dedicated by
LDS President Joseph F. Smith. The community believes
that the Church made a large contribution to the building
Montefiore's Orthodox members viewed the by-then
adopted Conservative ritual as inappropriate, so - in
time-honored Jewish tradition - they formed a third
congregation, Sha'arei Tzedek, in 1918, and completed
a building. The Great Depression of 1929 ended this
congregation and members returned to Montefiore.
However, the three congregations maintained separate
Ogden, Utah also attracted Jewish merchants supplying
the railroad, and they established Ohab Shalom in 1890,
changed the name to Brit Sholem and built a facility in
BACK in SLC, many Jews were businessmen: Siegel
Brothers Clo.thiers, Kolitz Candy Kitchen, Kahn
Brothers Wholesale Grocer, Ran.sohoff Liquors, Salt
Lake Brewing Co. (Moritz family) and Wagener
Brewing Plant (Wiesel family). The 1906-7 SLC
yearbook gives the number of Jews as 1,000.
Many were active in public life. Louis Cohn was elected
to the City Council in 1874, re-elected in 1882. The
SLC Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1887, and
included many Jewish businessmen.
In 1911, overcrowded conditions in New York, Boston,
Philadelphia, led to Jewish immigrants' western migration.
The Clarion (Utah) Jewish agricultural colony was
established. Unfor.tunately, those who came were
neither experienced farmers nor did they get good land.
By 1916, the settlers had left for SLC and other points.
The existing Jewish cemetery is maintained by the
residents of the nearby town of Gunnison.
In 1916, Simon Bamberger (a Jew) was elected the first
non-Mormon governor of Utah. Louis Marcus was
elected SLC mayor in 1932. About 39 Utah Jews
served in World War I.
Jewish organizations included Bnai Brith (1892), a sister
chapter (1923). Covenant House, purchased in 1923,
became the center of local Jewish activity. Hadassah
(1943) and the National Council of Jewish Women
(1941) were organized.
About 200 Utah Jews served in WWII. Jewish soldiers
stationed at Kearns and Fort Douglas attended Jewish
community dances. A community center was built in
1959. Among famous native sons and daughters of the
SLC community is comedienne Rosanne Barr.
CHANGING demographics and neighborhoods meant
that the Jews of Temple Square no longer lived near their
older community buildings.
In 1970, after years of talk, BI and Montefiore merged
into Congregation Kol Ami (now about 550 families),
which offers both Reform and Conservative services.
Other congregations include Chabad's Bais Menachem
(about 60 families), the Reconstructionist Chavurah
B'Yachad (about 40 families), and in the nearby ski
resort of Park City, Temple Har Shalom (Reform)
includes about 150 families. There are four Jewish
afternoon schools in SLC, one in Ogden.
The University of Utah offers a Bet Hillel and a Jewish
Studies Department. About 10 faculty members teach
Jewish/Israeli Studies-related courses, including
Associate Professor of Anthropology Laurence D. Loeb,
who is also Kol Ami's hazan.
The community, represented by the United Jewish
Federation of Utah, has absorbed resettled Russian
Jews, and has two Batei Din, fraternal and youth
organizations, chevra kadisha and a mikva.
There are even links with Israel: Ogden's sister city is
Dimona, while Provo's is Yavne.
FOR those to whom gastronomic Judaism is important,
community members state that passable bagels are now
available, as is Jewish rye bread, and in certain bakeries,
one can find hamantashen at Purim and flourless cakes at
Pesach. Some supermarkets have small kosher sections,
at least one carries frozen kosher poultry and meat. Both
Kol Ami and Beis Menachem order kosher meat and
other items regularly for their members. Fresh and
smoked fish is available, and there is at least one
vegetarian Chinese restaurant among SLC's many great
Current estimates give the Jewish population in this "land
of Zion," as 5,000, although today's members are more
apt to be professionals than fur trappers.
THE Mormons established a provisional State of
Deseret in 1849, and asked Washington, DC, for
self-governance. Instead, Congress created the Territory
of Utah in 1850.
The broad clean streets and modern Salt Lake City plan
date from its earliest days, when blocks were arranged in
a grid pattern in 10-acre squares, separated by streets
132 feet wide, or "wide enough for a team of four oxen
and a covered wagon to turn around."
Temple Square is the heart of the city. The historic
downtown section includes the Mormon Tabernacle
building (home to the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle
Choir), Family History Library, and many LDS facilities
The very first State Arts Council in the US was
established in 1899, paving the way for today's
wonderful array of symphony orchestras, ballet, theatre,
opera and modern dance companies as well as many art
Visitors and residents keep their cash in Zion National
Bank, shop at America's very first department store,
ZCMI (Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution)
opened in 1868, and attend concerts in Abravanel Hall.
For decades, Utah - host to the 2002 Winter Olympics -
has welcomed skiers to its world-class mountain powder
and beautiful resorts, most an easily-accessible hour or
so from SLC International Airport.
Visitors from around the world come to see Utah's seven
forests, six monuments, five national parks (including
nearby Zion National Park), two recreation areas. Its
hauntingly beautiful landscapes are timeless, primitive and
The author is indebted to both Eileen Hallet Stone, for
her presentation at the International Jewish Genealogy
Seminar in Salt Lake City, Utah, July 2000; and to
Arthur Tannenbaum, whose history of the Utah Jewish
community was supplied to attendees.