Thursday, June 15, 2017

In Arkansas

Jewish life in Arkansas began in 1825 with the arrival of Abraham Block to the town of Washington in Hempstead County. For Block and his family, however, it was a very lonely Jewish existence, as it was several decades until there were enough Jews in the area to form a community. When the Civil War began in 1861, there were approximately 300 Jews in the state, 70 of whom fought for the Confederacy.

 The first two Jewish congregations in the state were founded in 1866, within a few days of each other: Bnai Israel in Little Rock and Anshei Emet (which held its final service on June 11, 2016) in Pine Bluff. The state had one particularly interesting legislative impediment for Jews.. When the first rabbis moved to Arkansas, they discovered that they were unable to perform weddings due to a law requiring that a Christian minister officiate at all nuptials. The Jewish community successfully lobbied the legislature, and the law was changed to include rabbis.

 In the 1930s, the scattered Arkansas Jewish communities decided to coordinate and consolidate. They created the Arkansas Jewish Assembly, which helped to provide Jewish education and to connect unaffiliated Jews with Jewish organizations. It lasted for nearly two decades, but ended abruptly upon the death of its president, Jack Botnick, in 1951. Local Jewish Federations took over most of the Assembly’s services.

The Jewish population of Arkansas in 2016 was, according the Jewish Virtual Library, just over 2,000. Today, is the anniversary of Arkansas becoming the 25th state of the United States in 1836.

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