History of Temple Beth El
UTICA, commercial and industrial center in the Mohawk Valley in central New York State; population (2002) 59,684, estimated Jewish population 1,100. Both the city and its Jewish population have declined from the 1970s; the decline of Jews has been proportionately greater. Utica was first settled in 1786.
The first Jew to make it his home was probably Abraham Cohen, who brought his family there in 1847 from Poland, the homeland of nearly all of Utica's early Jewish settlers.
In 1848 the first synagogue, Beth Israel, was established with 20 families, and by 1871 there were at least 225 Jewish family heads. Waves of Russian and Polish immigrants in the years after 1870 increased the number of Jews to 2,517 by 1920.
Most of the early Jewish settlers were peddlers, while many of the post-1870 immigrants started out as manual workers. The peddlers generally went into wholesaling or branched out into new enterprises, and after 1915 Jews began to enter the professions.
Not many Utican Jews became wealthy, but among those who did, several attained national prominence, such as Miles Rosenberg, president of the Miles Shoe Store chain, and David Bernstein, vice president of the Loew's theater concern. From the 1930s on, Jews began to take an increasingly active interest in local civic organizations. Between 1904 and 1958, 22 Jews held political office, including state judge H. Myron Lewis.
Utica's first Jews have generally followed traditional Judaism. Congregation House of Jacob, founded in 1870, brought to Utica its first ordained rabbi, Moses Reichler, in 1897. An attempt to establish a Reform temple in 1903 ended in failure but in 1919 Temple Beth El, a Conservative synagogue, was founded with Rabbi Reuben Kaufman as its head. During the first quarter of the Twentieth Century Jews served their social needs through fraternal lodges, a YMHA and YWHA and a Workmen's Circle (1892). Local chapters of several organizations such as Hadassah (1917) and the Zionist Organization of America (1938) were formed and Jews contributed to World War I relief funds, the United Jewish Appeal and other charities. Through the initiative of Rabbi S. Joshua Kohn of Temple Beth El a Jewish Community Council was organized in 1933 to supervise and unify the many functions of the Jewish community. A Jewish Community Center was founded in 1955 and after 1949 the community's affairs were recorded in the Jewish Community News.
In the early Twenty-first Century the community still supported three synagogues Temple Beth El, Temple Emanu-El (Reform) and Congregation Zvi Jacob (Orthodox).
S.J. Kohn, Jewish Community, of Utica, 1847 – 1948 (1959). Jewish Virtual Library at
How to Find Us
Located in the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, the city of Utica is located in Central New York on historic Mohawk River Valley.
The Erie Canal which once flowed through downtown Utica began in Albany, turned west at Cohoes and snaked alongside the Mohawk River. Today, the channelized Mohawk River is the Erie "Barge" Canal. The region's location along the Hudson and Mohawk rivers and the canal turned it into America's industrial powerhouse in the 1800s. You'll find the region's legacy of culture, arts, academics, and architecture matched by the extraordinary scenic landscapes of the Mohawk River Valley.
Utica is easily accessible from major cities in the Northeast. Downtown Utica is only 1½ mi. from Exit 31 on the New York State Thrusway (I-90).