Monday, January 6, 2014

The Jews of the New Mexico Territory

On January 6, 1912, New Mexico became the 47th state of the United States of America. The majority of the state’s territory was acquired by the United States from Mexico in the late 1840s.

The first recorded Jewish settler in New Mexico was Solomon Jacob Spiegelberg, a young Prussian immigrant who arrived in Sante Fe in 1846. Eventually, Spiegelberg was joined by five of his brothers. The Spiegelberg Brothers partnership became a successful mercantile empire, and they soon expanded into banking, mining, insurance, construction, etc. As each brother took his place in the business, he made a return journey to Germany in order to find himself a Jewish wife. The Spiegelbergs set the pattern for further German-Jewish settlers in the territory.

The first official Jewish service was held on Yom Kippur 1860, when the Jewish population of New Mexico was approximately 32. By 1880, however, the Jewish population was over 200, and it continued to grow with an influx of Russian and Eastern European Jews who were then coming to America. By the turn of the century, congregations had been established in Albuquerque (Congregation Albert) and Las Vegas* (Congregation Montefiore).

By the time statehood was approved in 1912, the Jews of New Mexico were an accepted part of the population and several Jews had already held municipal positions.

The history of the New Mexico territory can not be told without mentioning the region’s Spanish roots. The Spanish began settling the area that is New Mexico today in the 16th century, and it remained in Spanish control until the establishment of Mexico in 1821. During this time, it is believed that many Crypto-Jews, who lived as Catholics but preserved their Jewish faith in secret for generations, settled in the area. In the last few decades, more and more descendants of Crytpo-Jews have come forward to claim their lost heritage.

*Las Vegas, New Mexico

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