New Orleans Jewish Community History
Before any Jews had even come to Louisiana, the Code Noir (Black Code) of the French colonial period decreed that they be expelled. No one bothered to enforce this part of the code against the handful of Jews who gradually trickled into New Orleans in the mid-1700s. After taking control in 1769, the second Spanish governor, however, did expel certain successful Jewish merchants –in particular the family of Isaac Monsanto who temporarily fled to Florida – but the Spanish governor’s probable motivation was more a perceived threat to Spanish economic power rather than religious intolerance. Judaism, after all, was not very important to New Orleans’ early Jews. Independent and individualistic, they generally came alone to New Orleans, seeking opportunity and leaving established Jewish enclaves elsewhere. A religious Jew in early New Orleans would have had a hard time upholding Jewish traditions which require, among other things, praying with at least nine others and following certain dietary restrictions. In fact, local Jewish history says the first New Orleans congregation, Gates of Mercy, began in 1827 when a Jew named Isaac Solis couldn’t find any unleavened bread to eat during Passover and decided to do something about the lack of Jewish life in the city. The Jewish community developed into a small but prominent population in New Orleans. The lifetime bachelor Judah Touro, a New England Jew of Dutch descent, steadily amassed a fortune as a merchant and businessman. He wasn’t particularly religious, but he was charitable, and his many philanthropic works include funding the congregation that became Touro Synagogue in 1850 and two years later starting Touro Infirmary, which grew into the enormous hospital it is today. While the first Jews of New Orleans had roots in Western Europe, a new wave began arriving from Eastern Europe. These Dryades Street Jews, so named after the Central City neighborhood where they settled, tended to be Orthodox, working class, and somewhat removed from city life, even from the established Jewish community. Jews hadn’t faced much anti-Semitism in New Orleans. The Krewe of Rex’s first King of Carnival in 1872 was even Jewish. But by the early 20th century, Jews were excluded from elite Mardi Gras krewes and other social organizations no matter how wealthy or prominent they were in city’s structure.
Nevertheless, Jews continued to be leaders in the city. Many of New Orleans beloved retail stores have been Jewish-owned: the former Canal St. department stores Krauss and Maison Blanche, the dearly missed K&B Drugs, and the still functioning Adler’s, Hurwitz-Mintz, and Rubensteins. Jewish philanthropy to New Orleans did not stop with Touro. Isaac Delgado founded Delgado Community College and the Museum of Art in City Park; Isidore Newman began one of the city’s top college prep schools; and the city can thank Malcolm Woldenberg for Woldenberg Park. Over the decades, the Jewish community’s focus gradually shifted farther uptown and is now dispersed throughout the city and into Metairie. Jewish Community Centers in both New Orleans and Metairie and congregations across the metropolitan area keep New Orleans Jewish life thriving.
Points of Interest
Jewish Community Centers Jewish Community Center-Uptown 5342 St. Charles Avenue New Orleans, LA 70115 (504) 897-0143 www.nojcc.com Goldring-Woldenberg Jewish Community Center-Metairie 3747 W. Esplanade Avenue Metairie, LA 70002 (504) 887-5158 www.nojcc.com Synagogues Touro Synagogue 4238 St. Charles Avenue New Orleans, LA 70115 (504) 895-4843 www.tourosynagogue.com Temple Sinai 6227 St. Charles Avenue New Orleans, LA 70118 (504) 861-3693 www.templesinaino.org
Congregation Gates of Prayer 4000 West Esplanade Avenue Metairie, LA 70002 (504) 885-2600 www.gatesofprayer.org Kosher restaurants Casablanca Restaurant 3030 Severn Ave. Metairie, LA 70002 (504) 888-2209 Kosher Cajun Deli 3519 Severn Ave. Metairie, LA 70002 (504) 888-2010 Judaica Shops Dashka Roth Contemporary Jewelry & Judaica 332 Chartres Street New Orleans, LA 70130 (504) 523-0805 www.dashkaroth.com L’Dor V’Dor Judaica 3519 Severn Ave. Metairie, LA 70002 (504) 455-4450 Naghi’s 633 Royal Street New Orleans, LA 70130 (504) 586-8373 www.naghis.com M.S. Rau Antiques 630 Royal Street New Orleans, LA 70130 (504) 523-5660 www.rauantiques.com (Source: http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/multicultural/multiculturalhistory/)