SAVANNAH, city in Georgia, U.S., third oldest Jewish community in North America. A seaport, the city had a total population of 129,808, according to the 2004 U.S. Census estimates, of whom 3,500 were Jews in 2005. On July 11, 1733, 41 Jews arrived aboard a ship chartered by London's Sephardi synagogue. Despite objections from London's Georgia trustees, the Jews won the legal right to settle and own property. Original settlers included Dr. Samuel Nunes, who rescued the colonists from an epidemic; his son-in-law Abraham de Lyon, who introduced viticulture; Abraham Minis, who became supplier for the militia of the founder of Georgia, James Edward Oglethorpe; and Benjamin Sheftall, interpreter for German Salzburger settlers. Sheftall and his son Levi kept the community's vital records from 1733 to 1809. In 1740, the Jewish population reached 100, but economic failure in Georgia, coupled with Spanish raids from Florida, gradually dispersed the community until only the Minis and Sheftall families remained. Although ritual appurtenances had been brought from England, it was not until 1735 that Ashkenazim and Sephardim could agree to organize the congregation Mickve Israel, which conducted worship in a small hut. A ritual bath was opened in 1738. Oglethorpe granted the original settlers a cemetery, but when the town grew around it, Mordecai Sheftall, by deed of August 2, 1773, donated to Mickve Israel a portion of his farm plot for "the use of a burial ground and for erecting a synagogue." The cemetery was used until 1850. The remainder of the property was sold, and the proceeds were used in 1902 to build a school and social center, the Mordecai Sheftall Memorial, which was replaced in 1957. Fluctuation in population occasionally forced the abandonment of public worship. In 1790, Mickve Israel obtained a charter from the governor, but 30 years elapsed before Jacob de la Motta (1789–1845) prevailed upon his coreligionists to build a synagogue, which was dedicated in 1820 and consecrated the following year. In 1829, it burned down (though its Torah – brought to Savannah in 1733 – and ark were saved) and was replaced with a brick edifice that remained in use until 1878, when the present Gothic structure was dedicated. Mickve Israel preserved Sephardi traditions until 1903, when it joined the Reform movement. It is the oldest reform congregation in the United States, using an organ for services in 1820, having mixed seating in 1860, as well as having a mixed choir populated by both sexes and even non-Jews. In 2005, 300 families were members of the congregation. Prussian-Polish immigrants of the 1850s organized what became the Orthodox Congregation B'nai B'rith Jacob. The   Eastern European immigration to the United States enlarged its membership. Organized under the leadership of Rabbi Jacob Rosenfeld after he was dismissed as rabbi at Mickve Israel over a dispute dealing with kashrut, the congregation built its first synagogue on the northeast corner of State and Montgomery Streets in 1866 and held services on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. A flourishing membership prompted the community to build a new, larger synagogue with a Hebrew school on the same site in 1909; at its peak, the school boasted an enrollment of 200 students. The congregation built a third structure, in 1962, on Abercorn Street and held its first services there on Passover. In 2005, 425 families belonged to the congregation. Congregation Agudath Achim, formed as an Orthodox group in 1901, was incorporated in 1903 and became Conservative in 1945 with the dedication of its third synagogue. The original congregation numbered 46 families; in 2005, it had 270 families. In the early 1980s, it formed a joint school with Mickve Israel, which was renamed in 1991 as the Shalom School, and in 2005 enrolled 100 students. Shalom School is a supplemental religious school that meets two weekday afternoons and on Sunday. The congregation celebrated its centennial year in 2003 and as part of that celebration, rededicated a Holocaust Torah from Kamenice, Czechoslovakia. Established in 2002, the Hillel chapter at Savannah College of Art and Design had approximately 25 members in 2005. The Savannah B'nai Brith was chartered in 1860. Savannah Jewry also developed many charitable societies: Hebrew Benevolent (1851); Ladies Hebrew Benevolent (1853); Harmonie Club (1865); Orphan Aid (1880), affiliated with the B'nai B'rith Atlanta Orphanage; Hebra Gemiluth Hessed (1888); Young Woman's Aid (1906); Women's Circle (1908); Hadassah (1918). A Young Men's Hebrew Association (1874) lasted several generations. These and other agencies came under the aegis of the Jewish Education Alliance (chartered 1912). Designed as an Americanizing center, the Alliance developed into a center of Jewish activities; it moved to larger premises in the 1950s. In 1990, the Alliance founded the Rambam Day School for students aged 2 through eighth grade; 2005 enrollment was 122 students. The Savannah Jewish Council, founded in 1943 and now known as the Savannah Jewish Federation, conducts the annual United Jewish Appeal campaign as well as social and educational programs. The Savannah Jewish Archives are housed in the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah, Georgia. Established in 1994, they are administered by the Savannah Jewish Federation and are one of two Jewish archives in the state. The second is located in Atlanta. Jews have always played an active role in all facets of Savannah life, with many holding public office. Most notable was Herman Myers (1847–1909), who served as mayor from 1895 to 1897 and from 1899 to 1907, and Kenneth Sadler, city council member (2003– ). Other notable community members include Kenneth Rubin, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in the Vietnam War in 1967, and William Wexler, international president of B'nai Brith from 1965 to 1971. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: M.H. Stern, in: AJHSP, 53 (1963/64), 169–99; 54 (1964/65), 243–77; Congregation Mickve Israel, Contact Commemorative Issue (March 1955); B. Postal and L. Koppman, Jewish Tourist's Guide to the U.S. (1954), 123–7, 131–2. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Savannah Jewish Archives held at the Georgia Historical Society, Savannah, Georgia (with acknowledgment to Kaye Kole for her invaluable research there). (Malcolm H. Stern / David Weinstock (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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