Historically, there were many reasons why Ashkenazi Jews wanted to leave their homeland and move to the United States starting in the 18th century. It was probably because of the lack of opportunities, anti-Semitic ideas or probably because of poverty and inhospitable conditions due to numerous wars and political challenges. Regardless the reasons, the truth is that by 1800 there were many Jewish immigrants already living in the U.S. and starting a new life that included new business. The Midwest states were not immune to this situation.
The first Jews who moved to the Midwest region came from German countries. They were the first Jewish immigrants to come to the vast nation of America and started to settle in the Northeast and Midwest cities. It is important to keep in mind that these cities looked very different back in the 19th century and territories were quite isolated. These first Jews primarily had to legalize their situation before opening their own shops and trade businesses.
What happened around the 1850’s?
As Yosef Meystel knows, the first Jews to settle in the Midwest were not the richest ones. These Jews had to work their way up in a new society and economy. Many laws forbid them from doing things that Americans could do. But these laws didn’t forbid them from having prolific businesses. This is how by the 1850’s many Jews had become local merchants who sold their clothes or articles to others. Jews who became merchants would also trade furs with Indians who lived in the Upper Midwest.
Before 1850’s the number of Jews living in America wasn’t significant. However, the limitless possibilities this new land offered to Jews quickly became word of mouth and numerous Jews moved from Germanic, British and lands from the Russian Empire to start all over again. Jews started to become livestock dealers, bankers, operators of local businesses and even agricultural commodity traders. As education was (and still is) a fundamental pillar of the Jewish community, most Jewish families taught their children how to keep on running the family business. This is how nowadays we can still find Jewish businesses operating in the Midwest that was founded more than 200 years ago.
Going with the flow
There was a key ingredient which helped Jewish businesses grow over the years and it was having several important rivers such as the Mississippi and the Missouri running throughout the Midwestern states. This is how Jewish immigrants promoted the creation of new river town in which they could trade their articles and from which they could move to one another and keep on with their trading activities. These new river towns allowed Jewish merchants to move from mining areas and farms through the rivers.
Each town started to become more prolific and the Jewish population started to grow. Most groups passed from being formed by 4 members, to having over 25 Jewish individuals working hard not only to get paid but also to preserve their identity and traditions as a culture.
Merchants funding congregations
Once the Jewish population started to grow, there were not only men the ones living in the Midwestern cities. There were also women in a fewer proportion. These women were responsible in most cases for creating congregations such as the Mount Zion Hebrew Congregation in Minnesota – which still operates today as a Jewish temple in St. Paul.
The Jewish presence became stronger not only in Minnesota but also in Minneapolis, where many German Jews decided to found the Temple of Israel to celebrate their culture and ceremonies. This temple was funded by Jewish merchants who worked in pretty much every marked that could be found in the Midwest region.
Later on, new congregations funded by Jewish merchants could be found in North Dakota, Illinois, and Indiana, as Jewish families started to grow, mix and mingle with the American culture. These new congregations always worked hand in hand with larger Jewish communities in Israel or European countries. through synagogue affiliations.
What is going on today?
In time, Jews living in the Midwestern cities started to amass their own fortunes and had prolific families and businesses to run. The new possibilities offered by the American government, especially during the World War II while Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, allowed Jewish families and businesses to grow not only in the Midwest but in the rest of the country. The support of an anti-Semitic government has supposed great conditions for Jews to get involved with white collar business activities throughout the country.
Nowadays, we can see how every single one of the 13 states that make part of the Midwest Region have business niches ran by Jewish businessmen or are already doing business with Israel. Such as Kansas, which in 2015 exported over $75 million worth of goods to Israel and imported more than $80 million in goods.
America has always been a great nation full of opportunities and the Jewish community in the Midwest has been able to seize these opportunities along the years, especially when it comes to making business.