Here’s a trivia question to help trip your friends: how many Jews live in Wyoming? The answer is 1,150, who constitute 0.2% of the state’s population (which in 2019 was 578,759, or 0.16% of the population of the United States, which means there are more Jews in Wyoming than there are Wyomingans in America). But wait, there’s more: Wyoming Jews are also 0.02% of US Jews, which, if you’re a trivia fan, is a big deal. So now, which Wyoming city has the most Jews? Why it’s Cheyenne, the state capital and the most populous city. On a roll? OK, how many Jewish federations are there in Wyoming? The answer is None. But there are four synagogues and one Chabad Center.
David, you might ask, how did you happen to come by this unique and valuable information? I’ll tell you because that’s what I do: the Ruderman Family Foundation on Sunday launched the English-language version of its “50 States, 50 Communities” website, aimed at stretching Israelis’ and Americans’ knowledge of US Jewry beyond New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami. The new website’s launching marked the start of the annual Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM).
On February 14, 2006, Congress issued House Concurrent Resolution 315 which stated: “Resolved … that Congress urges the President to issue each year a proclamation calling on State and local governments and the people of the United States to observe an American Jewish History Month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.” President George W. Bush first proclaimed the JAHM on April 20, 2006, to the request of late Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), as well as the Jewish Museum of Florida and the South Florida Jewish Community. Since then, annual proclamations have been made by Presidents Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden.
The website, which previously was only available in Hebrew, features an interactive map where users can learn an array of short information about the current and historical presence of the Jewish community in each U.S. state. The data provided on the site includes the size of the state’s Jewish population; the Jewish population as a percent of the state’s total population; prominent Jews who lived in the state; a recap of the state’s early Jewish history and current Jewish community; an overview of the state’s ties with Israel, such as its number of Jewish Agency for Israel emissaries; and the state’s number of synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, Jewish Federations, and Chabad Centers.
Which is how I learned that the first Jew in present-day Wyoming “seems to have been Joseph Hahn, who arrived during the Gold Rush of 1862,” and that “the story of Jews in Wyoming is linked chiefly to the development of the Union Pacific Railroad. As part of its drive westward, tracks were laid through southeastern Wyoming in 1867. The small towns along it soon attracted merchants, including German Jewish immigrants looking for economic opportunities, religious freedom, and the opportunity to assimilate.”
Don’t be judgmental.
There’s lots more, such as the fact that “after Wyoming was admitted to the Union in 1890, hundreds more Jewish immigrants began arriving from Eastern Europe. By 1897, there were about a thousand Jews in the state. Many of those who came to Wyoming preferred its wide-open spaces to the crowded cities of the East Coast. Mount Sinai Synagogue in Cheyenne was founded in 1915.”
In a press release, the foundation stated that “by acquainting Israelis and Americans with less-familiar Jewish communities across the US, the Ruderman Foundation is taking its latest step to strengthen the bond between Israelis and American Jews.”
Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, noted that “at a time when discourse surrounding Israel-American Jewry relations has heavily focused on criticisms, clashes, and crises, the ‘50 States, 50 Communities’ website offers the defining snapshots of what unites the Jewish communities on both sides of the Atlantic rather than what divides us, in addition to the attributes that make the Jewish community unique in each US state. Lost in the shuffle of frequent conversations on tension in the US-Israel relationship are our mutual ties, similarities, and reciprocal commitments, as well as American Jews’ strong identification and emotional attachment with Israel. Our website’s interactive map powerfully embodies that dynamic, helping both sides understand the depth of the connection between Israel and US Jewry.”
Now, did you know that South Dakota has only 250 Jews, three synagogues, and one Chabad center? It is the smallest Jewish community in all the 50 states. A biography of Stanford Adelstein, a South Dakota Jewish politician, titled, “The Question Is Why?” deals with the question he is often asked and the astonishment of those who discover that there really are Jews living in South Dakota.
So few Jews, so much trivia.