COLUMBUS, capital of Ohio; Jewish population of Columbus and the rest of Franklin County was estimated at 22,000 out of a total of 1,080,000 (roughly 2% of the total population) in 2001. Chosen for its central location, Columbus was founded in 1812 to serve as the state capital and was incorporated as a city in 1834. By 1840, the first Jewish families, the Nusbaums and Gundersheimers, settled in the city. They had emigrated from the village of Mittelsinn in the northwest corner of Bavaria (Lower Franconia), and they earned their living in Columbus as peddlers and merchants. They were soon joined by a few other families from Mittelsinn and elsewhere in Germany. In 1851, the first congregation, B’nai Jeshurun, was organized. Orthodox services were held in a variety of locations and were led by educated laymen such as Simon Lazarus, who volunteered to serve as the new congregation’s first religious leader. The following year, the city’s first Jewish cemetery was established. By 1868, religious tensions led to a split in the small community, and nineteen families organized a Reform congregation, B’nai Israel (now Temple Israel). Those supporting Reform included all of the surviving founders of B’nai Jeshurun, men who were now prosperous and well-established Columbus merchants. Within two years, B’nai Israel hired the city’s first full-time ordained rabbi and dedicated the city’s first synagogue building. Soon thereafter, B’nai Jeshurun folded and its members joined B’nai Israel. The growth of the congregation to over 100 families required a larger synagogue, which was completed in 1904 among the grand homes of the city’s Olde Towne East neighborhood.
The arrival of Jews from Eastern Europe beginning in the 1880’s brought greater diversity to religious life. In 1889, Agudas Achim was incorporated as an Orthodox congregation, formalizing a minyan that had been meeting for several years. Other Orthodox congregations developed to represent a particular ethnic group or style of worship. Those familiar with the Polish-Sephardic ritual (instead of the Ashkenazic
ritual in place at Agudas Achim) organized Beth Jacob congregation in 1897. Hungarian immigrants formed Tifereth Israel in 1901. In 1913, another group desiring to use the Polish-Sephardic ritual created Ahavas Sholom. These congregations initially lacked the wealth and resources of Temple Israel. Their services took place in locations in the impoverished neighborhood where most Eastern European Jews lived, immediately south and east of downtown. Agudas Achim dedicated its first synagogue building in 1896, moving to a larger structure in 1907. In 1908, the congregation hired its first ordained rabbi. Beth Jacob laid the cornerstone for its first synagogue in 1927 in Olde Towne East. The structure, with additions and renovations in subsequent years, remains Tifereth Israel’s home. It is the oldest synagogue building in continuous use in Columbus.
After the Second World War, most Jews moved farther east into the prosperous suburban enclave of Bexley and the surrounding Columbus neighborhoods of Berwick and Eastmoor. This area is still home to the greatest concentration of Jewish institutions: the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus, Wexner Heritage Village (a care and housing facility for the elderly), Jewish Family Services, the Columbus Community Kollel, as well as synagogues Agudas Achim, Ahavas Sholom, and Beth Jacob. The Orthodox congregation Torat Emet was established in Bexley in 2001. Agudas Achim joined the Conservative movement in 2004.
Although the East Side remained the heart of the Columbus Jewish community, in the early 21st century a majority of Jewish households lived in the suburban and fast-growing northern section of Franklin County. Temple Israel moved to the Far East Side of Columbus in 1959, and two more recent Reform congregations are located in northern Franklin County suburbs. Beth Tikvah, founded in 1961, is in
Worthington. Temple Beth Shalom, founded in 1977, is in New Albany.
Bibliography: Marc Lee Raphael, Jews and Judaism in a Midwestern Community; Columbus, Ohio, 1840 - 1975
(Columbus: Ohio Historical Society, 1979)
Columbus Jewish Historical Society