History of LDS - Jewish Connections

Jews of Temple Square:
historical summary in
Jerusalem Post

The Jews of Temple Square

By Schelly Talalay Dardashti

(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 the Millennium.

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 religious freedom.

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 element.

Early Jewish entrepreneurs supplied itinerant miners racing westward for gold. From tent stores along railroad lines they offered picks, shovels, clothes, food and prospecting pans.

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 candle factory.

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 Mormon autonomy.

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 relations faded.

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 fund.

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 cemeteries.

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 1921.

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 ethnic eateries.

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 and institutions.

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 galleries.

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 unspoiled.

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.
B'nai Shalom Home Page