Shalom Life | November 14, 2014

Shalom, Nebraska: A Jewish Culture Guide

Nebraska might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of locations with rich, Jewish cultures, but the rural Northwest state actually has a lot to offer, both past and present.

By: Sara Torvik

Published: November 4th, 2014 in Culture » Society » News

And we’re off, to anywhere and everywhere, as we say ‘Shalom’ every week to different global travel destination. World cities, provincial towns, and even the most unassuming of suburbs are infused with Jewish history and culture, some of which is waiting to be discovered.

For the pious follower, the curious traveler, or the intrepid adventurer, we’ll unearth the best of what to do and where to go. Be it an emerging subculture, a historical landmark, or simply a triumph of art in any form, Jewish experiences are found around the world; and likely as well in your backyard.

It may be in the destination, the journey, or the company, but there is much to uncover and celebrate near and far, so hurry up and get going.

Shalom, Nebraska


Jewish history in Nebraska goes back to the 1850s, and is most prominent in Omaha, the largest city in the state. The Jewish community in Omaha is known for the many significant cultural, economic and social contributions it made to the city.

The first Jewish settlers came to the city shortly after it was founded in 1856, and most of the came from Eastern Europe and the Russian Empire. Many of the immigrants were active in working class and socialist politics, especially during the 1920s and 1930s, while many others established themselves as merchants and businessmen in the city. The Jewish community was heavily involved in philanthropy and created many important cultural and charitable institutions. The renowned Jewish feminist author, Tillie Olsen worked when she was young in the meatpacking plants and helped organize unions, and the Jewish youth organization Aleph Zadik Aleph was established by immigrants in Omaha.

Many strong Jewish religious congregations were also formed early on, especially by the Orthodox and Reformed leaders. Temple Israel was founded in January of 1871 and was the first Jewish congregation in Nebraska. Immediately after the temple was founded, the congregation formed a burial society and established the Pleasant Hill Cemetery in order to provide ritual services to the city's Jewish community. Rabbi Leo M.

Temple Israel

Franklin, a recent graduate of Hebrew Union College, became the Temple Israel’s most well known and respected rabbi in 1892. He even had many prominent admirers within the Christian community in Omaha for being such an eloquent and idealistic preacher. Franklin’s achievements include adoption of the Union Prayer Book and pushing to increase the Building Fund, slated for the construction of a new and larger Temple for the congregation.

Find out more about Nebraska's rich Jewish history and culture on the next page!

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