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The Jewish diaspora has undergone massive changes over the past 200 years. Up until the 17th century, the Jewish community in North America was quite small and comprised of primarily Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Spain and Portugese. There were approximately 250,000 in North America in 1880. Today, North America is the second largest home to the world’s Jewish population, outside of Israel. (1)
Large scale Jewish immigration to America began in the late 1800s as a response to political persecution in Eastern Europe. Most of these immigrants were Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews from the rural areas of the Russian Empire, and what is now modern-day Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. More than 2,000,000 Jews immigrated between 1880 and 1924, with the majority of them settling in New York City. To this day, New York City has the largest population of Jewish people in the United States. (2)
We have done research to create a list of the largest and most active Jewish communities in North America. This research is based on the size of the Jewish population and the presence of an active local Jewish community in each city.
The Best US Cities for Jewish Singles and Families
New York, New York – The Big Apple is home to the largest number of Jewish people outside of Israel. The Upper West side in particular has been home to a rich Jewish heritage for more than 150 years. You will not find more synagogues, Kosher delis and Jewish activities than you will in New York. However, because of the high cost of living and the shortage of affordable housing, this historically Jewish enclave may be a challenging choice for young Jewish families just starting out. In 2006, Jews were 8.4% of the total state population. (3)
Bergen, Essex and Union Counties, New Jersey – Jersey was one of the first big hubs for Jewish immigrants, and was also one of the few American states to grant religious tolerance to its citizens as early as 1665. Most early Jewish settlers to New Jersey moved to the urban centers like Newark, Trenton and Camden. During the past 30 years however, most Jewish families now live in the affluent suburban areas. In 2006, Jewish people were almost 5.5% of the total state population. (4)
Washington, DC – The seat of our national government is of course deeply intertwined with Jewish culture and history. German Jewish immigrants started moving to the District of Columbia in the 1840s. In 1852, a group of twenty-one Jews in Washington established the Washington Hebrew Congregation. Within four years, the small Jewish community succeeded in persuading Congress to pass an act that certified Jewish citizens the right to incorporate and own property. By 1863, the congregation purchased a church at 8th and H Streets in NW, and remodeled it into a synagogue, making it one of the first Jewish-owned properties in America. (5) There are a large number of synagogues, kosher delis and Jewish recreational activities all over DC, with a large concentration in the Northwest of the city, about 15 miles outside of downtown DC. There is also the world renown United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In 2006, Jewish people were 5.1% of the total District of Columbia state population. (6)
Brookline – Boston, Massachusetts – This small community outside Boston is known for its large population of Russian and Israeli immigrants and numerous synagogues. Of its almost 60,000 inhabitants, more than 35% are estimated to be Jewish. (7) Jewish culture is especially present along the section of Harvard Street that starts at Washington St (Brookline Village), runs through Beacon Street (Coolidge Corner) and ends at Commonwealth Avenue, continuing into Allston-Brighton. This neighborhood is home to at least three area synagogues, including the first Jewish congregation in Massachusetts – Ohabei Shalom, founded in Boston in 1842 and located in Brookline since the 1920s. Brookline is also known for its excellent schools, making it a choice destination for young Jewish families. (8) In 2006, Jewish people were 4.3% of the total state population. (9)
Pikesville, Maryland – In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Jewish immigrants to the Baltimore area first formed communities in East Baltimore, in neighborhoods such as Broadway East, Jonestown, Middle East and Oliver, near Johns Hopkins Hospital. During World War II, the Jewish community started to move outside Baltimore City into Pikesville, which is now considered the largest Jewish community in Balitmore, numbering an estimated 100,000 Jewish people. Owning Mills and Reistertown are two other large Jewish neighborhoods. In 2006, Jewish people were 4.2% of the total state population. (10)
Miami, Florida – Miami and the suburbs to the North have been a choice destination for Jewish families and retirees because the state has zero income tax, great weather and affordable housing. There are also a large number of Kosher eateries, Orthodox and conservative synagogues, and Jewish day schools, making this a choice spot for young Jewish families. In 2006, Jewish people comprised 3.7% of the total state population. (11)
Los Angeles, California – The City of Angels and its surrounding valleys holds a large and diverse Jewish population. The Pico-Robertson district, Westwood, and parts of the valley like Thousand Oaks, Encino and Sherman Oaks, have large, active Jewish communities, with many synagogues, Hebrew schools and Jewish-run small businesses. The Jewish community is also diverse, with all variations of shuls represented, from Persian Chabad to the Carlebachian Happy Minyan, which meets in a Jewish-owned karate dojo. There are other great historical landmarks such as the Museum of Tolerance and Simon Wiesenthal Center. In 2006, Jewish people were 3.3% of the total state population. (12)