click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​




6 Things to Know about Jewish Cleveland, including LeBron James

6 Things to Know about Jewish Cleveland, including LeBron James

No, LeBron isn’t Jewish but he does embody many Jewish traits.

by

Many years ago, long before Cleveland won its first NBA championship, I was a Jewish New Yorker and there were 4 dots on my globe: NY, Miami, L.A. and Jerusalem. I was blissfully unaware of Cleveland’s existence. I didn't know that it was called “The Mistake on the Lake,” or that its sports teams – the Indians, (baseball) the Cavs (basketball) and the Browns (football) – have the uncanny ability to lose all the time. (That is until this past historic Sunday night!)

Then I met my future husband. The fact that he hailed from Cleveland was to my mind a minus, but his Mid-western charm, friendliness, and sincerity won me over. I acted as though I was doing him a big favor when I agreed to move to his hometown after our marriage. How young and silly I was.

Cleveland really grows on you and Jewish Cleveland is even better! It's vibrant, alive and growing. I love it here, even before LeBron James joined the Cavs, even after he left, then came back, putting Cleveland in the national spotlight.

Here are 6 things that to know about Jewish Cleveland and you’ll understand why I love it so much:

1. Jewish Clevelanders have been around forever:

Ok, not forever but since the 1830s when Daniel Maduro Peixotto joined the faculty of Willoughby Medical College in 1836 and Simson Thorman (1812-1881), a trader in hides, came from Unsleben, Bavaria, settling permanently in Cleveland in 1837. He sent for his family who arrived in America prepared to continue Jewish observance. They carried with them an ethical testament, known as the Alsbacher Ethical Testament, written by their teacher in Unsleben, who implored them not to forsake their heritage.

Simson Hopferman (later Hoffman) served as a hazan and shochet. They had a Sefer Torah, and with enough men to form a minyan, established the Israelitic Society in 1839. In 1840 the group purchased land for a cemetery and more Jewish settlers arrived. Jewish Cleveland continued to grow slowly but steadily until the 1880s. The Jewish population of Cleveland increased greatly from the 1880s on as East Europeans fled pogroms and economic hardships. In 1890 the Jewish population was over 5,000 and by 1900 it was 20,000; at the end of the immigration period the estimated Jewish population of Cleveland was between 90,000 and 100,000. Its Jewish population now is 80,000 strong.

2. Clevelanders Love Torah:

One of the reasons Jewish life in Cleveland has maintained its vibrancy is because of Telshe Yeshiva. The original Telshe Yeshiva in Europe was decimated in World War II. The surviving Roshei Yeshiva, Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch and Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Katz wanted to transplant the Yeshiva to America. Many of their former students who had made it to the US broke into groups to visit different cities throughout America to find it a new suitable home. As they travelled they met with many Rabbinic and lay Jewish leaders who felt that their mission would be unsuccessful. They tried to dissuade them, telling them that it was an impossible dream.

In the 1940’s many Americans Jews were more interested in assimilating then maintaining their Jewish identity. But this persistent group of men would not give up.

They came to Cleveland and were met with enthusiasm. The Jewish people in Cleveland were excited about having a Yeshiva in their midst. The Rabbinic and lay leadership were encouraging and volunteered to do whatever they needed to help build and grow Telshe Yeshiva, which later laid the groundwork for many Jewish Day Schools to thrive in Cleveland. The Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, led by Rabbi NZ Dessler was one of the first Jewish Day School’s outside of NY. My father-in-law was in the first class.

3. Cleveland’s Jewish Federation rocks:

The Jewish federation in Cleveland is known to be the most cohesive and influential Jewish organizations in America. Federation supports Cleveland’s Jewish Day Schools, in a way that no other Federation does. They just instituted new security programs with police presence in every school.

They feed the hungry, comfort the sick and care for the elderly in Cleveland’s award winning nursing home, Menorah Park. They have many programs that are committed to ensuring a Jewish future and support Israel. Not only that, its commitment to its sister cities in Beit Shean, Israel and St. Petersburg in FSU is unparalleled.

4. Clevelanders love Israel:

Although I love Cleveland, Israel is still the number one place for me in my heart. I’m not alone. The numbers are not clear, but a disproportionate amount of Clevelanders make Aliyah to Israel and settle – guess where? Next to other Clevelanders. It has been reported to me that one neighborhood in Efrat is affectionately known as Little Cleveland.

5. Cleveland is like the Jewish people:

Ruchi Koval, a native Clevelander, founder of outoftheorthobox.com and JWRP Trip Leader posted this right after Cleveland Cavalier’s NBA championship win: “Cleveland is like the Jewish people. We may be the underdog, but we're fiercely loyal. We can make fun of ourselves, but watch out if anyone else does. We may stray to other pastures, but we come home. When things get dicey, we know how to band together. And every now and then, we have a shining victory.”

Clevelanders are also known for their Midwestern values: Friendliness, solid work ethic, and humbleness. They are down to earth, and are always willing to help their neighbor.

6. LeBron James is not Jewish but we love him anyway:

LeBron James is not Jewish but he embodies many Jewish traits. He has overcome many challenges in his life through hard work, loyalty and faith. After leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to Cleveland’s first sports championship in 52 years, his first interview had him thanking and showing his appreciation to the “man above” for his success. You can’t get more Jewish than that.

June 20, 2016

Give Tzedakah! Help Aish.com create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Chaya Mannes Milevsky, June 23, 2016 5:50 PM

Thnx for a wonderful article.
Chaya Mannes Milevsky

(6) Shelly, June 23, 2016 2:21 PM

Cleveland

Great article. I've never been to Cleveland (and I'm no sports fan). But I wonder what the basis Is for the statement: " The Jewish Federation in Cleveland is known to be the most cohesive and influential organization in America". And "Federation supports Cleveland Hebrew Jewish day school like no other organization does". Upon what are you basing the statement that the federation is "the most cohesive and influential organization in America"? And saying that the Cleveland federation supports the Local Hebrew day school "like no other organization does" is ridiculous. Should another states Jewish federation support Clevelands Hebrew Day school! I understand your support of your city. Good for you. It sounds like a fun place to live. But, as a writer, you should know better than to state your opinions as facts. You lose credibility on the other statements you make. :-)

(5) Andre Zachen, June 22, 2016 9:07 PM

Overrated

As a former Clevelander I will say that:
Friendliness, if you are not "different" than the norm
Solid work ethic, I can name a list whose work ethics were far from solid. In order to prevent chillul hashem I will not be more specific. Yes, there are rotten apples everywhere but with only 80,000 Jews Cleveland's rotten apple ratio is just like any other community if not worse.
Humbleness, I again don't see how they are more humble than anyone else.
They are down to earth, and are always willing to help their neighbor. This is true!

(4) rochel levine, June 21, 2016 9:26 PM

Cleveland is my Home away from Home- Sydney Australia!!!

When I come to Cleveland- not only a I with my Family- and Grand & Great Grandchildren. The people are warm- haimish good Jews.
It is a lovely City & all people are friendly & hospitable.
Green Rd. Shule
here I come tomorrow-- for the Wedding of my youngest Grandaughter- Shayna Levine to Sholem Adler-
lovely to be there.. Rachel Levine

(3) Leah Chan, June 21, 2016 8:16 PM

I Miss Cleveland!

I have been away from Cleveland for 39 years. Thank you for the article. It reminds me of what I am missing and what I have missed.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.


  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment
stub