Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why Jews Came West to the Oregon Country

Nadene Goldfoot                                          
South Portland's Sullivan's Gulch before renovation of 1958.
South Portland became the Jewish and Italian neighborhood .

Lair Hill:   This area was part of historical South Portland, a district of Italian, Irish, and Jewish immigrants much of which was demolished by an "urban renewal" project in 1958.  Vestiges remain in the form of synagogues and ethnic shops.
 My father was born in 1908 in a little house near the Gulch where my grandmother raised goats.The gulch extends east from the Willamette River and originally was a forested riparian area featuring a spring-fed pool and waterfalls. During the Great Depression it was home to a "Hoovervilleshanty town.  They must be referring to the old homes there that are going for a fortune  on today's market that still remain standing.  

The synagogues that were in the area were torn down, such as Neveh Zedek Synagogue, my family's synagogue.    The Mead Street Synagogue on 1st and Mead was still standing but was finally sold after Chabad had bought it in the 1980s.  
The Oregon Country was attracting adventurers who wanted to farm in 1843.  They were attracted to the Willamette River and its possibilities.  The East Coast was getting a little crowded.  By 1845, Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove got together and decided to form a town.  Asa was from Massachusetts and wanted to name it "Boston."  Francis was from Maine and wanted to name it "Portland."  They tossed a coin and Francis won.  Portland was born.

More adventurous people went to California where gold was found in 1848, causing the California Gold Rush   Places where gold was struck attracted German  Reformed Jews who came as peddlers or merchants of general store owners.  As new deposits were found northward towards the Oregon border, they followed the miners moving there.                                              
Jews in Germany in 13th Century, forced to wear such identifiable garments and hats.
It took Napolean to free the Jews.
After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1814, the German Jews were legally equal to other Germans. That, however, did not last long. The Germans could not tolerate Jewish equality but did keep the French imposed laws “on the books”.
"Jacob Goldsmith and Lewis May, young German-born immigrants who opened a general store in Portland in 1849."       The German Jewish brothers, Sam and Harry Criss opened their store in Council, Idaho:   The Cohen and Criss General Merchendise Store.  Sam was married to Zlata's sister, Bessie and Harry was married to her other sister, Jenny.  When Zlata married Nathan, they had 3 couples living in Council.  What a wonderful shabbat they must have had each week!  
"Germans were one of the largest groups who emigrated to the United States. Modernization caused a shift in traditional jobs leading many Germans to leave the country during the late 19th century." Industrialization brought rural Germans to the factories, mines and railways. The population in 1800 was heavily rural, with only 10% of the people living in communities of 5000 or more people, and only 2% living in cities of more than 100,000.   After 1815, the urban population grew rapidly, due primarily to the influx of young people from the rural areas. Berlin grew from 172,000 in 1800, to 826,000 in 1870; Hamburg grew from 130,000 to 290,000; Munich from 40,000 to 269,000; and Dresden from 60,000 to 177,000.   Offsetting this growth, there was extensive emigration, especially to the United States. Emigration totaled 480,000 in the 1840s, 1,200,000 in the 1850s, and 780,000 in the 1860s  So not only Christian Germans were coming to the USA, mainly looking for farming opportunities, but German Jews as well.  More than 4 million Germans  arrived in the United States between 1850 and 1897 through the ports of Baltimore, Boston, New Orleans, New York, and Philadelphia. 

The 1848 revolution turned out to be unsuccessful: King Frederick William IV of Prussia refused the imperial crown, the Frankfurt parliament was dissolved, the ruling princes repressed the risings by military force, and the German Confederation was re-established by 1850. Many leaders went into exile, including a number who went to the United States and became a political force there.

1850s in Germany

The 1850s were a period of extreme political reaction. Dissent was vigorously suppressed, and many Germans emigrated to America following the collapse of the 1848 uprisings. Frederick William IV became extremely depressed and melancholy during this period, and was surrounded by men who advocated clericalism and absolute divine monarchy. The Prussian people once again lost interest in politics. Prussia not only expanded its territory but began to industrialize rapidly, while maintaining a strong agricultural base.
Other Causes why Jews Left Germany
"Napoleon I emancipated the Jews across Europe, but with Napoleon's fall in 1815, growing nationalism resulted in increasing repression. From August to October 1819, pogroms that came to be known as the Hep-Hep riots took place throughout Germany. Jewish property was destroyed, and many Jews were killed.
Germans boarding  a Steamer at Hamburg for America on November 7, 1874. 
During this time, many German states stripped Jews of their civil rights. In the Free City of Frankfurt, only 12 Jewish couples were allowed to marry each year, and the 400,000 gulden the city's Jewish community had paid in 1811 for its emancipation was forfeited. After the Rhineland reverted to Prussian control, Jews lost the rights Napoleon had granted them, were banned from certain professions, and the few who had been appointed to public office before the Napoleonic Wars were dismissed. Throughout numerous German states, Jews had their rights to work, settle, and marry restricted. Without special letters of protection, Jews were banned from many different professions, and often had to resort to jobs considered unrespectable, such as peddling or cattle dealing, to survive. A Jewish man who wanted to marry had to purchase a registration certificate, known as a Matrikel, proving he was in a "respectable" trade or profession. A Matrikel, which could cost up to 1,000 gulden, was usually restricted to firstborn sons.   As a result, most Jewish men were unable to legally marry. Throughout Germany, Jews were heavily taxed, and were sometimes discriminated against by gentile craftsmen.                                                                     
Portland 1854 at Front and Washington Streets
As a result, many German Jews began to emigrate. The emigration was encouraged by German-Jewish newspapers.   At first, most emigrants were young, single men from small towns and villages. A smaller number of single women also emigrated. Individual family members would emigrate alone, and then send for family members once they had earned enough money. Emigration eventually swelled, with some German Jewish communities losing up to 70% of their members. At one point, a German-Jewish newspaper reported that all young Jewish males in the Franconian towns of HagenbachOttingen, and Warnbach had all emigrated or were about to emigrate.   The United States was the primary destination for emigrating German Jews.
Portland 1873 along Willamette River One crosses the river to the west side for the town area
with all the department stores.  The West side leads to the Pacific Ocean.  The East side leads to Mt. Hood and Idaho. 

The Jews of Eastern Europe came over later in the 1880s to 1920.  "The 1880's was another dark period of rising anti-Semitism, expulsions from large cities and many other general restrictions.  It was mandatory for Jews "to keep the same names that had been entered in the vital records."  1881 saw Alexander II assassinated causing antisemitism.  Jews were traders and artisans since Middle Ages and were now restricted in Russia including much of Poland that was in Pale of Jewish Settlement.  Serfdom was in Russia until 1861.  In 1891 22,000 Jews in chains led from Moscow and St. Petersburg to the Pale.  It was hard to leave Russia.  They had to cross borders illegally into Austria/Hungary, then to Vienna or Berlin.  In Hamburg, Bremen and Rotterdam, thousands tried to find passage to America, standing in long lines.  Then they crowded into steerage for 2 to 4 weeks of seasickness and hundreds sharing a toilet.  In 1904 20,000 people did not pass the inspection and were sent back to Europe.  Between 1881 and 1910 1.5 million Jews emmigrated to USA.  Of that 1 million were from Russia.    

Most Eastern European immigrants destined for Oregon stopped on the Lower East Side of New York  before traveling by train across the country to Portland.  Others came more directly because relatives or families had already settled here.

By February 8, 1851, the city of Portland was incorporated.  By 2010, it would have 583,776 residents.  By 1899, there were 6,000 Jews living in Oregon.  By 2015 there were 38,100.  Most lived in the largest city in Oregon, which is Portland.  1851 was the year gold was discovered in Jacksonville, Oregon.

In 1852, seven Jewish residents were listed on the Jacksonville census;   all young men involved in store keeping, supplying mining equipment, dry goods, and groceries. They lived  among the  1,506 people,  Jacob and  and Louis Fleischer arrived in Albany by the Oregon Trail in 1852.  This was in southern Oregon near the California border.  By 1856  they had Jacksonville's High Holiday serves started and the Jewish cemetery was created in 1859.  Jews were taking part on the Jacksonville City Council.  Max Muller was their postmaster for 18 years.  
Portland's Front Street in 1853 along Willamette River

The railroad was completed in 1880 which is probably how my grandparents reached Council, Idaho.  They had met and married there in 1905.    "Rapid growth also attracted people from different ethnic groups to Portland. In the 1880s, the city’s large Chinese community was second in numbers only to San Francisco’s. The next decades brought immigrants from Japan and from Scandinavian, Eastern European, and Mediterranean countries. At the height of immigration in 1910, the largest contingents of foreign-born Portlanders were from the British Isles, Canada, China, Germany, and Sweden, followed by immigrants from Russia and Italy. (The Russian immigrants would be the Jewish ones.)  Residents in the first decades of the twentieth century could identify South Portland as an Italian and Jewish neighborhood, Brooklyn as Italian, Sabin as German, and Slabtown as Irish and then Croatian. Scandinavians clustered in parts of Northwest and in Albina. Several blocks north of Burnside Street was Japantown, and many from Portland’s small African American community lived near Union Station for ease of access to railroad jobs."
Neighborhood House in South Portland for Immigrants
Where Billy Meshke boxed professionally
Father: Morris "Moses" Goldfoot fought under the name of Billy Meshke
at the Neighborhood House in South Portland professionally.
Born in July 1908, picture in about 1929, boxing during the depression
He married my mother in 1932 so stopped, working in a  Kosher butcher shop. in
South Portland on 3rd Street near Lincoln Theater.  

The Neighborhood House was a place for immigrants to learn to speak English
and learn more about American life.  It 
was founded in 1905 by the National Council if Jewish Women (NCJW),  Neighborhood House opened one of the city’s first free kindergarten programs, for children of immigrants.  My father's kindergarten program started when his father was killed in an accident and he and his brother had to hit the streets at age 4 and 6 and sell newspapers to support their family of mother and 4 tiny children 6 and under in 1912.  He learned math quickly that way.  
Albany, Oregon 1887

The Oregonian newspaper was a weekly one in 1862 and in October, it applauded Joseph Gradwohl of the Albany IOOE Lodge for donating $150 to the US Sanitary Commission. This city's Albany States Right Democrat included the marriage of Benjamin Brenner and Sarah Baumgarden in their April 1868 article,    The First Hebrew Congregation of Albany formed in 1878 with their main reason the need to organize a cemetery.  Albany's Jews dominated businesses along Main Street with dry goods, groceries, tobacco and clothing stores, a barbershop, saloon and a ladies hairdressing salon.  "Finally in 1864, 16 years after the Monteiths  founded the town and 19 years after the first European Americans arrived, it became incorporated as a city."

My grandparents came to Portland after 1906 from Council, Idaho, a mining town in the mountains where they had both found each other after immigrating from Telsiai, Lithuania and Lazdijai, Suwalki, Lithuania/Poland.  Nathan Abraham was born in 1871 and Zlata "Hattie"  was born in 1886.  They were Orthodox Jews of eastern Europe and were uneducated, speaking only Yiddish.   The 1910 census was the only time Nathan was listed as he died in a horse and wagon accident in 1912.  He had immigrated in 1893.                                                                              
Meier & Frank in the 1970s in Lloyd Center of SE Portland.  

1851 was the year in Portland that Simon and Jacob Blumauer opened their shop on Front Avenue.  
20th governor of Oregon
Julius Meier whose father was
Aaron Meier, (1874-1937)
1st Meier and Frank Department Store
Downtown Portland
No matter what religion you were, children enjoyed going through
Toyland on the 8th floor every "Chanukah/Christmas Holiday.

Aaron Meier was a peddler in the Oregon Territory and opened his 1st Portland store in 1857.  By 1860, 120 Jews lived in Portland out of a population of 874.  
"In 1857, Aaron Meier (1831–1889) arrived in the Oregon Territory at the age of 26 and opened a 35-by-50-foot (11 m × 15 m) mercantile store at 137 Front Street in Portland, which had a population of 1,300. He had come to California from Bavaria during the Gold Rush, spending time as an itinerant peddler in southern Oregon.
The need for a cemetery is what brought Portland's Jews together.  The Mount Sinai burial Association formed in 1856 when they bought land in South Portland. 
Congregation Beth Israel, a reformed synagogue, formed in 1858 and absorbed the association.                          
Josiah Failing Grade School
It started as a wooden building of 12 rooms and was finished in October 1883 for the cost of $38,800.
The building is still in use, but not as an elementary school.  

 The land around it became the Jewish and Italian immigrant community with children attending Failing Grade School, named for a Josiah Failing, 4th mayor of Portland.  His son, Henry Failing,  was also a mayor. None of the students turned out to be failures.  They were all success stories. 
Melvin Jerome Blank (May 30, 1908-July 10, 1989)

 Mel Blanc, Jewish voice for many cartoons, was one in my father's class.    He was born in May 1908, a few months earlier than my father. He was the voice of   Bugs BunnyDaffy DuckPorky PigTweety BirdSylvester the CatYosemite SamFoghorn LeghornMarvin the Martian,Pepé Le PewSpeedy GonzalesWile E. Coyote, Road Runner, the Tasmanian Devil, and many of the other characters from the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies theatrical cartoons during the golden age of American animation."
1980 :Neil Edward Goldshmidt (b: 1940 in Eugene, Oregon
33rd Governor of Oregon 1987 to 1991, Democrat
 Mayor of Portland 1973 to 1979
U.S. Secretary of Transportation by President Jimmy Carter in 1979-1981; 
Magazine:  Shalom Oregon 2010 Edition, page 9,13 by Polina Olsen, published annually by the Jewish Review by the newspaper owned by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland.
Book:  The Jews of Oregon 1850-1950 by Steven Lowenstein (Coffee Table Edition, by Jewish Historical Society of Oregon 1987,_Oregon,+Portland,+Oregon&source=bl&ots=FjkCiha1hJ&sig=rEGnQxAoemD4yKEfUoUR9m5gsfo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiZ5bnLqKTSAhWnxlQKHXyCDkM4ChDoAQhFMAo#v=onepage&q=Failing%20Grade%20School%2C%20Portland%2C%20Oregon&f=false,_Portland,_Oregon


  1. oh my goodness! such a history for your family!
    what an interesting read nadene, all of it.
    my katz immigrant came over from germany to pennsylvania in 1738.
    he was from hochdorf wuerttemberg. (on my origins page on ftdna site a little flag is popped up showing i share an ancestor with somebody among my dna cousins in..well guess where? ;) ..wuerttemberg germany) and from what i've seen (believing it is him) he was baptized as a child to be lutheran. maybe back a 100 years or so his people were practicing judaism and that put them in jepoardy so they converted is what i think happened. my dna shows some jewish strains and i know it comes from the bassano/denasi's (sephardic) but also it shows a sliver could be coming from lithuanian/polish and i read of the katz name from polish/czech lineages. so i suspect they were converts and since the history is often lost, i wonder if they were germans who were anti-semitic as i read of protestant martin luther, the former catholic who had a disdain for jews because of the influence of replacement theology taught in catholic teachings.
    don't know how they were katz and not jewish back somewhere in the lineage because that name was an acronym to hide being jewish. but how they came to identify themselves later on is something i wish i knew about. later on as the family name was americanized while in pennsylvania they could have become german baptists because by the time catt family is in ms, they are baptist.
    what twists and turns in the stories huh?
    oh the things that make you go hmmm...
    as always good writing for the reading, nadene, and much to chew on.

  2. Just found your comment, Andre. Glad you read this one. Yes, I'm also finding that people converted when pressured in an anti-Semitic environment. Sometimes they were forced to as in the Spanish Inquisition of c1492 and sometimes in mixed marriages and sometimes volunteering. In the Middle East it happened as well. Katz; my best girl friend in high school was Shirley Katz whose parents were Holocaust survivors. I believe they had been from Germany. I don't know how the German Jews ever survived all the horrible things that happened to them throughout the centuries to even arrive in 1939.