Jews of the West
Ray Frank, 1861 - 1948
When Ray Frank was born in 1861, the Jewish communities of the Western United States were still of very recent origins. Sizable Jewish populations had arisen only with the Gold Rush of 1849, when hundreds and then thousands of Jews joined the torrent of other Americans and immigrants streaming towards California in search of prosperity. While few Jews actually became miners, many did work as peddlers and shopkeepers in mining communities. Even more settled in the commercial center of San Francisco, where approximately 4000 Jews (out of a population of 119,000) lived at the time of Frank's birth. As mining towns declined in the 1860s, San Francisco Jewry grew rapidly: by the 1870s, over 80% of California's 19,000 Jews lived in the city, where they constituted 7-8% of the population. Today, one-six of American Jews live in the West, and the Los Angeles Jewish community is the second largest in the United States.
California was attractive to Jews, American-born and immigrant, because it seemed to offer endless opportunity both for financial success and for quickly becoming fully American. In the new, fluid, multi-ethnic towns of the West, being Jewish and/or an immigrant was far less of a handicap than it was in the older cities of the East or South. Many Jewish settlers prospered and were accepted as members and even leaders of their communities.
San Francisco served as the nucleus of Western Jewry. It had two congregations by 1851, and a broad range of Jewish institutions—from cemeteries to cultural organizations - arose quickly. From California, Jews moved into Nevada after silver was discovered in 1859; small but thriving communities developed in some silver-mining towns only to decline precipitously the mining industry peaked. Jews also moved into Oregon during the Gold Rush to trade with the farmers who provisioned the West's mining towns.
Jews began to arrive in significant numbers in Washington in the late 1850s and early 1860s, with the first permanent Jewish settlers—German and Polish Jews—arriving in Seattle in the 1860s. Only in the 1880s did Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia create a sizable community in Seattle. Since the early twentieth century, Seattle has housed the United States' third largest population of Sephardic Jews, who today make up 12-15% of the city's Jewish community.
- Information about Jews of the West can be found in Norton B. Stern, "The Jewish Community of a Nevada Mining Town," Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, 15, no. 1 (1982): 48-78; Moses Rischin and John Livingston, eds., Jews of the American West (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991); Jacob Rader Marcus, United States Jewry 1776-1985, vol. II (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991); and Howard A. Droker, "A Coat of Many Colors: The History of Seattle's Jewish Community," Portage, 4, no. 2 (Spring 1983): 4-9.