19 May 2008

Kentucky: Jewish history

I just discovered this interesting piece by Carol Ely on Kentucky's Jewish history at the Kentucky FolkWeb site.

Blintzes and Grits. Bagels and Bluegrass. "Shalom, Y'all." The jokes come from the obvious contrasts between what we think of as Jewish culture and what we think of as Southern. But the reality is a much more complex blending of cultures and identities, creating a unique kind of Jew — the Kentucky Jew.

Jews were present for the very creation of Kentucky. The Virginia mercantile firm of Cohen and Isaacs hired Daniel Boone to scout out their Kentucky lands; and another merchant family, the Gratz family of Philadelphia, set up trading posts on the Ohio (including the river landing at Gratz, Kentucky) and joined the founders of Lexington.

These early Jews were Sephardic Jews, with roots in the dispersion of Jews from Spain to the rest of Europe and the New World. They followed Sephardic traditions of worship and law and were part of an educated and entrepreneurial transatlantic elite.

By the 1840s Jewish traders and peddlers appeared in greater numbers in Kentucky settlements, emigrating from political unrest, poverty, and restrictive laws in Germany. In most of Europe, Jews were not permitted to own land, so most Jewish immigrants did not expect to become farmers. Instead, small-scale retailing, either through door-to-door, town-to-town peddling, or in a small storefront, was the best opportunity open to them. When enough Jews gathered in one place, it was natural to think of formalizing their community as a congregation.

Among Jewish communities in the 19th-early 20th centuries were Louisville, Owensboro, Lexington, Paducah, Covington, Ashland, Henderson, Hopkinsville and Newport, and mentions the influx of German, Polish and Russian immigrants. Today, Ely states, the organized community includes Louisville, Lexington, Owensboro and Paducah.


  1. I have an email from Kathryne Robinson, publisher of The KY Voice Newspaper-and Co-founder of The Genesis House- a multi-purpose facility that helps people who want to be Spiritually, Socially and Productive members of society.
    She is looking for a historian that is interested in Jewish History in KY.
    The house was once a daycare for 80 years - run by Jewish and white women.
    She would like to get a historical marker in it's name.
    Paducah Day Nursery.

  2. Anonymous7:23 PM

    I grew up in Louisville--1934-1958. Pretty much as described in the article in Folkife.

    i wonder if anyone has early records from 1900-1924. Is there a repository for jewish archives in Ky.

    In Washington State all the Jeiwhs synagogues, organizations, business records are sent to Washington State Jewish Historical Society and kept in special collections at the U of Washington. A treasure for researchers.


  3. Barbara9:38 PM

    I am trying to track a Jewish family that lived in Henderson, KY. Nathan Schlesinger married Lotte Fisher in 1870 in Henderson. In the 1910 census it showed that Lotte had 5 children with two living. I know one of those was Mary (Marie). In 1900 there was a son, Frank. Everything just ends and I can not find more information. Who can I get to help search? I have not found anything else useful on ancestry.

  4. Anonymous4:03 PM

    Jim said.....I am trying to track my Jewish
    great grandfather Gilbert Livingston born in
    Kentucky 1813.He later lived in Green County,
    Illinois and was married to Mahala Manis.Any
    suggestions to find out about the family history
    in Kentucky.I suspect the family may have left
    Kentucky because of General Grant.Any assistance
    would be greatly appreciated?

  5. Anonymous8:39 AM

    This is Kathryne Robinson Update news on The Genesis House.
    My husband and I have been renovating this historical bldg for 8 years. No support from this city-
    We will get her finish and sell it down the road The Paducah Women's Club founded this daucare in 1991-SOme of the women were Jewish and the color lady in the 60's was a servant from cooking to changing diapers-her dauther was the first black child to enter and in the end this daycare had over 70% black and this daycare is still going at a new place and the director is a black man-Wow this is history