JEWISH AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH
The earliest record of Jewish settlement in Tompkins County is the grave of Morris Lubliner, who was buried in April 1856 in the city cemetery on University Avenue. In the 19th century there were probably only ten to twenty Jewish families in Ithaca, and few, if any, of the early families stayed. By 1900 the Jewish population began to grow and become more established. Services were held in private homes and hired halls, with visiting rabbis. Congregation Chevra Kadisha began in 1906 in the home of Isidor Rocker, as a liberal group. Agudath Achim, an orthodox congregation, was organized in 1921, and the two groups combined in 1924 to form Congregation Beth-El. Both Jewish and Christian members of the community participated in fundraising for a temple. The B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation, which had decided to organize a chapter at Cornell, joined the effort and agreed to sponsor a rabbi for both the community and students. Temple Beth-El opened in 1929 at 402 N. Tioga St., with Rabbi Isidor Hoffman as its first rabbi.
Tompkins County now has a thriving Jewish culture and community, with groups and organizations including Ithaca Area United Jewish Community, Ithaca Descendants of Holocaust Survivors, Temple Beth-El, Congregation Tikkun v'Or, B'Yachad Jewish Community Preschool, as well as Hillel, Chabad Center, the Center for Jewish Living, and numerous other student groups at Cornell and Ithaca College.
Jewish American Heritage Month began in 1980 with the passage of Pub. L. 96-237, which requested that the president designate a week in April or May as 'Jewish Heritage Week.' In 2006, President George W. Bush proclaimed the month of May as Jewish American Heritage Month to celebrate the history of Jewish Americans and provide opportunities to educate the public about Jewish culture.
Sol Goldberg was the staff photographer for the Ithaca Journal from 1956 to 1965. Image from "Sol Goldberg's Ithaca: The Journal Years" pg. 80, also available in the Sol Goldberg Photograph Collection housed at The History Center in Tompkins County.
Temple Beth-El ca. 1930s. Photo from the History Center in Tompkins County photograph collection.
ARTICLES & LESSON PLANS
JEWISH HISTORY IN TOMPKINS COUNTY - ARCHIVES & RELATED COLLECTIONS
HOLOCAUST EDUCATION - ORAL HISTORIES & CURRICULUM GUIDES
In support of teachers in Tompkins and surrounding counties, a collection of seven local Holocaust survivor oral histories are assembled here with supporting materials.
The recordings were made between 2013 and 2018 in the Ithaca Jewish community and turned into classroom-length productions by students from the Ithaca College Park Scholars program. A second phase of the project for the Ithaca College Park Scholars together with the History Center in Tompkins County was the creation of supporting materials including links to historical background material and suggested prompts for discussion, essays, and further investigation.
Our hope is that in becoming familiar with Tompkins County Holocaust survivors and their life stories, students and teachers will delve deeply beyond textbook knowledge to learn important lessons about the Holocaust. In collaboration with live Ithaca-area speakers (Ithaca Area United Jewish Community Holocaust Speakers’ Bureau), we hope to enhance the efforts of second generation speakers to tell first generation stories.
Now, as we face COVID-19 school closings and distance learning, this series of oral histories can serve many area middle and high school students learning online or independently about members of our community whose lives were changed by the Holocaust.
Holocaust Education Playlist
HistoryForge is an innovative digital history project combining maps, archival records, and census data that allows any community to explore its local history through the individuals who lived there and the buildings and neighborhoods they lived in.
Ithaca HistoryForge includes over 70,000 digitized census records of Ithacans from 1910–1940, and is in the process of adding tens of thousands of building records to the database.
By searching the database using the "Mother Tongue," "Place of Birth," "Foreign Born," and "Name" filters on different census years, you can learn about Jewish residents of the City of Ithaca between 1900–1940.
Gravesite of renowned astrophysicst and astronomer Carl Sagan. Sagan lived in Ithaca from 1968 until his death in 1996. His gravestone in Lakeview Cemetery continues to be a popular spot for aspiring student scientists and community members to leave thoughtful artifacts and graded papers. Image taken in fall of 2020 by Zoë Van Nostrand.