The old neighbourhoods aren’t what they used to be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As with other cities, the Jewish scene there is changing. The older sections which traditionally catered to immigrants, have given way to different ethnic groups as the Jewish community headed to the suburbs. In Milwaukee, this exodus, according to one of the Jewish leaders in the community, Marty Stein, is due to the collapse of the school system.
As with most cities which, attracted immigrants, the Milwaukee Jews had modest beginnings. However, in the history of this city it is always cited that it was the original German Jews who were instrumental in creating a viable status for the Jews. They came about l840, established themselves as merchants and thrived. It was the German Jews who really organized the community. At the start only eight German Jewish families settled here. They prospered in various businesses and eventually some entered political life becoming city councillors and state legislators. This group founded Mount Sinai Hospital in l903, among many other help- oriented organizations and started the first synagogue in l856. In the history of the religious practices of the German Jews, there seemed to be a shift from Orthodoxy to Reform.
By l852 there were l00 Jewish families living here. The population of Jews today is approximately 26,000 with a greater Milwaukee population of l million. According to Stein, there are only approximately 7,000 Jews who are truly observant. But Stein sees this as a positive amount for this part of the world.
When you think of the outstanding Jews who have come from Milwaukee, Golda Meir’s name tops any list as a person who stands out internationally. Born in Russia, she was 8 years old when she arrived in United States settling with her family, in Milwaukee. (Meyerson) Meir, spent her youth, the formative years, in this city before emigrating to Israel (Palestine) where she rose to the position of the country’s fourth Prime Minister. So many people recalled her days at her former elementary school on Fourth Street. The building has been renamed in her honour. What is of constant amusement is that “at least 2000 people say they went to school with her,” laughs Max Taglin of Taglin Enterprises, a tour and guide business. “Of course, the school never had that kind of admission in the few years she studied there.”