Town founded in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, in 1730; one of the six or seven cities in the United States containing pre-Revolutionary Jewish settlements. The earliest record of this interesting Jewish settlement seems to be that of a deed, dated Feb. 3, 1747, from Thomas Cookson to Isaac Nunus Ricus and Joseph Simon(s), conveying a half-acre of land in the township of Lancaster "in trust for the society of Jews settled in and about Lancaster, to have and use the same as a burying-ground." At this time there were about ten Jewish families at Lancaster, including Joseph Simon, Joseph Solomon, and Isaac Cohen, a physician. In 1780 the list of Jews included also Bernard Jacob, Sampson Lazarus, Andrew Levy, Aaron Levy, Meyer Solomon, Levy Marks, and Simon Solomon, all shopkeepers, and Joshua Isaacs, later of New York, father-in-law of Harmon Hendricks. The leading figure in the settlement was Joseph Simon, one of the most prominent Indian traders and merchants and one of the largest landholders in America, his enterprises extending not only over Pennsylvania, but to Ohio and Illinois and to the Mississippi river. In his Lancaster store Levy Andrew Levy was a partner, and Simon's sons-in-law, Levi Phillips, Solomon M. Cohen, Michael Gratz, and Solomon Etting (1784), were also associated with him at various periods. In partnership with William Henry, Simon supplied the Continental army with rifles, ammunition, drums, blankets, and provisions. He died Jan. 24, 1804, at the age of ninety-two; and his grave is still preserved in the above-mentioned cemetery.
A list of twenty-two residents of Lancaster to whom various Indian tribes in Illinois conveyed a tract of land comprising the southern half of the present state of Illinois, includes the following names of Jews: Moses, Jacob, and David Franks, Barnard and Michael Gratz, Moses Franks, Jr., Joseph Simon, and Levy Andrew Levy.
Aaron Levy, a native of Amsterdam, Holland, and a partner of Joseph Simon at Lancaster, lent large sums of money to the American colonists during the Revolution. Joseph Cohen, a native of Lancaster, was on guard at Philadelphia, in the Continental army, on the night when Lord Cornwallis was captured. Among attorneys at Lancaster are found Samson Levy, admitted to the bar in 1787, and Joseph Simon Cohen (grandson of Joseph Simon), admitted in 1813, and from 1840 to 1853 prothonotary of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.Synagogue.
There was probably no permanent synagogue or congregational organization at Lancaster during the eighteenth century, although it has been stated that one was formed in 1776; but regular religious services were held in a sort of private synagogue in the house of Joseph Simon. A portion of the Ark there used has been presented to the American Jewish Historical Society.
Many of the Jews of Lancaster were supporters of the Congregation Mikve Israel of Philadelphia. The Jewish families mentioned above seem to have moved from Lancaster at the beginning of the nineteenth century. No interment took place in thecemetery from 1804 until 1855. In the latter year there was a new Jewish influx into Lancaster, the newcomers being unrelated by descent to the former Jewish residents.
The old Jewish cemetery, which is still preserved, came into the possession of the Congregation Shaarai Shomayim soon after the latter's organization by residents of Lancaster and the vicinity (Feb. 25, 1855). This congregation was incorporated Nov. 18, 1856; and Jacob Herzog was the first president. Its synagogue was dedicated Sept. 22, 1867; and it has about forty-eight members and seat-holders. The exclusive right of the congregation to control the cemetery was recognized by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in a recent decision (Congregation Shaarai Shomayim vs. Moss, 22 Penn. Superior Court Rep. 356 ). This congregation is at present the leading one in Lancaster; the Rev. Isadore Rosenthal, who succeeded the Rev. Clifton H. Levy, is its rabbi. There are also the following other Jewish organizations at Lancaster: Congregation Degel Israel (Orthodox), founded Sept. 25, 1895, and having about fifty members and seat-holders; United Hebrew Charities of Lancaster County; Ladies' Hebrew Benevolent Society, founded 1877; and the Harmonie Club (social).
At present (1904) there are in Lancaster about fifty Jewish families of German descent and about 150 of Russian extraction, the latter having come to Lancaster since 1884.Oldest Synagogue.
On an old Indian trail leading from the Conestoga to the Swatara, and not far from Lancaster, is a place pointed out as the site of one of the first synagogues in America, referred to by J. F. Sachse in his "The German Sectarians of Pennsylvania" as "at one time the most distinctive and populous congregation of the ancient faith in the colonies." He further says that many of the German Christians adopted the Jewish customs (which he states still obtain among the families of old settlers in Berks, Lebanon, and Lancaster counties) as a result of the potent influence of the Jews of Lancaster, Heidelberg, and Schaefferstown. Some of the Christian settlers even became members of this congregation. The Jewish cemetery established about 1732 near Schaefferstown (now in Heidelberg township. Lebanon county, but originally in Lancaster county) is almost obliterated.
- Publ. Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. No. 1, pp. 66-67; No. 2, pp. 156-157; No. 5, pp. 111-117; No. 8, p. 148;
- Henry Necarsulmer, The Early Jewish Settlement at Lancaster, Pa., ib. No. 9, pp. 29-44;
- Jewish Exponent, xxv., No. 11 (whole No. 534);
- Notes and Queries (Egle), 3d series, i. 278, 291;
- Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, xxiv. 475;
- Ellis and Evans, Hist. of Lancaster County, pp. 18, 47, 250, 369, 370, 471;
- Christopher Marshall, Diary of American Revolution, ed. 1877, pp. 204, 208;
- Markens, The Hebrews in America, pp. 79, 80, 184;
- Publ. Lancaster County Hist. Soc. iii., No. 7, pp. 165 et seq.;
- Journals of Continental Congress; Morais, Jews of Philadelphia, pp. 23, 39, 50 (note 65);
- Historical Collections of Pennsylvania, 1843, ii.;
- Historical Register, in Notes and Queries, No. 1, pp. 301, 302;
- American Israelite, xliii., No. 12;
- J. F. Sachse, The German Sectarians of Pennsylvania, 1708-1742, ch. ix., p. 118;
- American Jewish Year Book, 1900-1, pp. 517 et seq.;
- American Jews' Annual, 1888-93, pp. 96-98;
- Record Book B. p. 441 (Lancaster Co. Register's office);
- J. I. Mombert, An Authentic History of Lancaster County in the State of Pennsylvania, 1869.