MEMPHIS, city in Tennessee, U.S., with a Jewish population of 9,500 (.08 percent of the general population) in 2005. Memphis was first settled in 1818 and the first known Jewish settler, David Hart, arrived in 1838. In the 1840s Jews began to settle in larger numbers, and they acquired land for a cemetery in 1848. In 1850 a Hebrew Benevolent Society was formed, and by 1853 the Jews were "regularly organized" for purposes of worship. In 1935 the Society changed its name to the Jewish Welfare Fund, and in 1977 it became the Memphis Jewish Federation. In 1853, B'nai Israel Congregation (Children of Israel), with 36 members, was granted a charter by the state legislature. The congregation worshiped in rented halls until 1857, and in 1858 converted a bank building into a place of worship. The building was dedicated by Rabbi isaac mayer wise , the founder of American Reform Judaism, and would later be known as Temple Israel. Rev. Jacob J. Peres, a native of Holland, was the first spiritual leader. In 1860 the relationship between the congregation and Rev. Peres was severed and a new congregation, Beth El Emeth, was organized. From 1860 to 1870 R. Simon Tuska was rabbi of Congregation Children of Israel. At this time, the city's Jews, some 400 people, worked in banking, barbering, and auctioneering (including slaves); they even operated a racetrack. A good number ran several businesses simultaneously. A few entered the professions; most were small storekeepers who dealt in clothing and dry-goods, groceries and hardware. Memphis suffered little or no damage during the Civil War. Some Memphis Jews served in the army of the Confederacy. From 1863 to 1866 Congregation Children of Israel sponsored a nonsectarian school – Hebrew Educational Institute. The school was to provide educational opportunities during the disruption caused by the war. Following the death of Rabbi Tuska in 1870, Rabbi Max Samfield was elected rabbi of the congregation in 1871 and served until 1915. In addition to serving the congregation, Samfield published The Jewish Spectator from 1885 until his death. This paper served the Jews of Memphis and the mid-South. In 1884 the Orthodox Baron Hirsch Congregation was organized and in 1891 converted a church as a place of worship. The first rabbi was Benjamin Mayerowitz. It became the largest synagogue in the United States. In recent years it moved to a new, smaller sanctuary to be within the area with the highest concentration of Jews in East Memphis. Congregation Anshei Sphard was organized in 1898. Beth Sholom, a Conservative congregation, was established in 1950 and in 1967 dedicated its new synagogue. Like many Jews in the Memphis community, Beth Sholom's rabbi at that time, Rabbi Arie Becker, was well known for his involvement in the civil rights movement. Long-time Rabbi Zalman Posner was a ḥasid of the rebbe, but he served in a congregational role. Official Chabad Lubavitch of Tennessee was founded in Memphis in 1994. Under the leadership of Rabbi Levi Klein, Chabad quickly became an active part of Memphis Jewish life. A B'nai B'rith Lodge was organized in 1856 and in 1927 the B'nai B'rith Home was established to serve the Jews of Memphis and the mid-South. It was completely rebuilt in the 1960s and dedicated in 1968 as the B'nai B'rith Home and Hospital. The Jewish Community Center was organized in 1949 and in 1968 dedicated a $2,000,000 edifice, and the Jewish Historical Society of Memphis and the Mid-South was established in 1986. Jews have been active in the economic, political, and civic life of the community. The Goldsmith family, leading   merchants, were known as benefactors of the community for three generations. The Jewish community was so well accepted in Memphis that in the 1920s, it chose not to build a Jewish hospital, fearing that it might alienate the non-Jewish medical community and lead to a restriction of their hospital privileges. Abe Plough, a native of Tupelo, Mississippi, was generally regarded as one of the foremost citizens of the community by virtue of his philanthropy. His company was bought out by Schering to form Schering-Plough, a pharmaceutical giant. He played an important role in settling the famous sanitation strike of 1968 that brought Martin Luther King, Jr., to town, the site of his assassination in April 1968, contributing money anonymously to offset the costs to the city of pay raises. Other families who generously supported the entire Memphis community include the Fogelman, Lipman, Lowenstein, Lemsky, and Belz families. The Jews have also served as presidents of the bar association and the medical society. The Jewish population has remained relatively stable for more than 80 years. It has received 200 Holocaust survivors and 300 Russians. The community's hub shifted to East Memphis, the heart of Jewish life today. The community boasts the Bornblum Judaic Studies Program, established in 1985 at the University of Memphis through the generosity of David Bornblum and Bert Bornblum. The program brings numerous scholars and lecturers to the community. As in many college towns, the town-gown gap is bridged by the Judaic Studies Program. There are two Jewish days schools: the Bornblum Solomon Schechter Conservative day school, and the Orthodox Margolin Hebrew Academy Feinstone Yeshiva of the South, which honors Harry Feinstone. The Orthodox community of Memphis was described by Tova Mirvis in her highly acclaimed novel The Ladies Auxiliary (1999). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Musleah, "The Jewish Traveler: Memphis," in: Hadassah (Dec. 2000). (James A. Wax / Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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