Tuesday, February 9, 2016

New Hampshire’s Jewish History

As Americans await the outcome of today’s New Hampshire primary, Jewish Treats takes a look at Jewish life in the ninth state of the Union. While the Jewish population of New Hampshire has never been particularly large (only about 10,000* in the 21st century), the state’s Jewish history attracted attention when, in 2014, a mikveh (ritual immersion pool) was excavated in Portsmouth by the Strawbery Banke Museum.

The mikveh was most probably built in the early 20th century, but had become nothing more than a piece of oral history after the house in which it was built was demolished in the 1960s. The excavation was exciting because it demonstrates the tireless commitment of Jews to observe their traditions and rituals no matter where they are.

The mikveh is not the Strawbery Banke Museum’s first Jewish historic landmark. In the city’s Puddle Dock neighborhood, the Shapiro House highlights the experience of Russian Jewish immigrants. The family history of Abraham and Sarah Shapiro and their daughter Molly highlights how hard these Jews worked to better themselves and to balance living both a Jewish and an American life.

Abraham Shapiro -- and the working class immigrants like him -- helped found New Hampshire’s third synagogue, Temple Israel, in 1906. In 1912, the Temple Israel Congregation dedicated its building with a grand parade featuring the Navy Band.

New Hampshire’s first two synagogues were located in the city of Manchester. Congregation Adath Yeshurun was formed in 1890. Seven years later, a breakaway group formed Anshei Sefard (which is now known as Temple Israel). The first congregation erected a synagogue edifice in 1911. The second built one in 1917. The Manchester Jewish community was fully divided until 1946, when the two congregations built one memorial chapel together on the dividing line between the city’s two Jewish cemeteries.

*According to Jewish Virtual Library...

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