Jewish Life in America, c1654-1954

Sources from the American Jewish Historical Society, New York

Explore the history of Jewish communities in America from their first arrival in New York in 1654 to the integral part that they play today.

Based on a rich variety of original manuscript collections from the American Jewish Historical Society in New York, this indispensable resource offers captivating insights into the everyday lives of the American Jewish population over three centuries. Charting the Jewish Diaspora from the earliest settlements through to the mass European influx of the early twentieth century, Jewish Life in America will appeal to researchers of all aspects of this diverse and extensive cultural heritage.

The collection is based on a rich variety of original manuscript documents ranging from a peddler’s certificate signed by Benjamin Franklin, to records of organisations such as the Baron de Hirsch fund, which supported Jewish entrepreneurship all across America from 1891 to the 1980s.

Anyone researching the history of the American Jewish community will benefit from this treasure trove of primary sources.
Jonathan D. Sarna, Brandeis University

Key Data

Period Covered

  • 17th - 20th century


  • The evolution of early Jewish Settlements in areas such as New York, Rhode Island and Philadelphia
  • The immigration process and structures of support for those arriving from the Old World – the differing experiences of immigrants and, from the late 19th century, strategies adopted at Ellis Island and in Galveston
  • The role of Jews in the American War of Independence and the Civil War
  • The role of the synagogue as a focal point for Jewish communities
  • The development of Jewish schools and charitable institutions
  • Westward expansion and the attempts to establish Jewish farms
  • The Jewish Diaspora – the influx of Jews from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and other places around the world and their dispersal across America
  • The garment industry, peddling, general stores, finance and diversification into other industries
  • The development of differing strands of Judaism in America – Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionism and Orthodoxy – and the roots of this in patterns of immigration and in societal changes
  • Reaching out to Jewish communities around the world – especially to Russia, Romania, Germany and Eastern Europe
  • American Jewish involvement in the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II
  • Involvement in Civil Rights and Minority Rights issues.

Source Archive

  • The American Jewish Historical Society, New York

Material Types

  • Personal collections of letters, scrapbooks, autobiographies and notebooks
  • Minutes, reports and financial records
  • Correspondence, minutes and committee reports
  • Memorials
  • Announcements
  • Surveys
  • Printed material

Editorial Board

  • Hasia R Diner, New York University
  • Jonathan Sarna, Brandeis University­­­­­


  • Business, Industry and Enterprise
  • Civil Rights and Liberties
  • Culture, Literature and the Arts
  • Early Jewish Experience
  • Everyday Life: Personal and Family Narratives
  • Immigration and Settlement
  • Politics and the Law
  • Reflections on the Jewish Experience
  • Religion, Tradition and Community
  • War, Conflict and Persecution
  • Welfare, Health and Education

Key Features

  • Interactive maps displaying rare historical census data showing the distribution and settlement patterns of the Jewish population across the United States and the world
  • Interactive chronology
  • Biographies of many prominent Jews
  • All images are full text searchable and digitized in full colour


Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers.

CONTENT Jewish Life in America c1654-1954 is a digital archive of original manuscript materials from the holdings of the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) in New York. Materials to ......

Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars; knowledgeable general readers.

Jewish Life in America is a rich collection of archival materials and primary sources documenting the history of Jewish settlement and life in the US from colonial times through the ......