Jewish Immigration to America: Three Waves

Sephardic, German, and Eastern European immigrants each contributed to the formation of American Jewry.

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In addition, Eastern Europeans brought with them unprecedented support for Jewish nationalism. They educated the American Jewish community on this topic, even if they did not appear among its early leaders. (Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah, credited her immigrant night school students for her introduction to the fundamentals of Zionism…)  

Finally, Eastern European Jews ensured a more religiously diverse American Jewish population. The Eastern Europeans did not, for the most part, feel comfortable with Reform Judaism. Their insistence on maintaining tradition, albeit in a modern context, contributed to the establishment of Conservative Judaism and infused Orthodox Judaism with new energy and purpose.   

Large-scale Jewish immigration to the United States ended in 1924. Still, the contemporary American Jewish community remains very much a product of these founding groups.

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Joellyn Wallen Zollman holds a PhD in Jewish History from Brandeis University. She was the History and Community editor of