Friday, July 10, 2015

The Jews of Wyoming

While Wyoming is not a state known for its sizable Jewish community - there are today only approximately 1,150 Jews - the history of its community is over 140 years old. The territory of Wyoming, which did not become a state until July 10, 1890, was populated mainly by Native Americans until the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1868. In the railroad’s wake came rapid development. As the railroad towns, known originally as “Hell on Wheels,” were transformed into the towns of Cheyenne and Laramie, settlers included a notable number of German Jewish immigrants. These settlers, many starting out as peddlers, often created the mercantile base for these growing towns.

By the time Wyoming became a state, there were enough Jews that a synagogue, Temple Emanuel, was established in Cheyenne. The congregation hired student rabbis from Cincinnati for the High Holidays.

As happened across the United States, the infrastructure established by the pioneering German Jews of the mid-19th century was soon overtaken and expanded by the influx of Eastern European Jews who arrived at the turn of the century. In Cheyenne, that meant that by 1919, Temple Emanuel had been absorbed into the newer Mount Sinai Congregation, which had been established in 1910 as an Orthodox synagogue.

During the first half of the 20th century, the Wyoming Jewish population remained steady, perhaps even growing slightly. In the latter decades, however, many young Wyoming Jews left the state for larger communities elsewhere, in the hope of finding better job opportunities and the chance to meet a Jewish spouse.

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