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Albert Von Tilzer (born Albert Gumm) was born In Indianapolis to a Jewish family that immigrated from Poland. Von Tilzer wrote music to many hit songs, including, most notably, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
As of October 1, 2023, Pearl Berg was 114 years old. Pearl Berg was the 10th oldest living human being in the world – the 3rd oldest living American – and was the oldest living Jew in the world – born on October 1, 1909, in Evansville, Indiana.
In 1932, Jewish Attorney Bess Robbins Kaufman became one of the first Democratic women elected to the Indiana House. She served in the sessions of 1933, 1937, and 1939.
Indiana was a vital destination for early German-speaking Jewish immigrants in the 19th century, who often relocated to smaller cities such as LaPorte and Evansville for prominent Jewish families like the Rosenwald Family and places like Madison, Indiana, for the Brandeis family. The low start-up price for businesses in smaller Indiana towns and cities was often attractive for the new weary Jewish immigrants before moving to larger, more expensive cities such as Louisville or Chicago.
Phyllis R. Klotman founded the Journal Black Camera in 1981. She helped to amass an extensive archive of African American film at Indiana University in Bloomington, now including thousands of movies, photographs, oral histories, and memorabilia.
One of the Founders and Honorary Presidents of the Yiddish Speaking Labor-Zionist Organization, Farband Meyer L. Brown, born in Bialystok, Poland, in 1888, attended Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana.
Minnette Baum, a trailblazing Jewish Social Worker, was instrumental in establishing several organizations in Fort Wayne. This included helping to create the Allen Co. Children’s Home, the Wheatley Center, the Fort Wayne Women’s Club, and the League for the Blind.
Rabbi Harris Weinstein, an immigrant born in Lithuania in 1859, is believed to have had one of the longest-known Rabbinical careers in Indiana, Starting at an Orthodox Pulpit for one year in Evansville in 1880. In 1881, Rabbi Harris arrived in Goshen, Indiana, and became Rabbi of Congregation Sharis Israel Weinstein, starting a Rabbinical Career ending in 1939. His Son Aaron would later become a prominent Rabbi in the Reform Movement.
Sid Collins (born Sidney Cahn Jr.) (July 17, 1922 – May 2, 1977) was an Indiana broadcaster best known as the radio voice of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network from 1952–1976. Collins famously coined the phrase describing the annual May motorsports event as “the greatest spectacle in racing.” Born into a Jewish family that owned a neighborhood store in Indianapolis, Indiana, Cahn changed his professional name to Collins for fear of antisemitism and discrimination in the field of broadcasting.
The First High Holiday Service was held in Gary, Indiana, in September 1907. On a cold, windy day, the Shofar was blown and occurred in a Hay Loft owned by Philip Mekatinsky between Ninth and Tenth Avenues on Alabama Street.
An Orthodox Jewish Immigrant from Czarist Russia to South Bend, Jessie Levy became the First woman to graduate from Indiana University School of Law – class of 1921, and the First known woman to act as a judge in Indiana.
L.T. Alexander David Goode (May 10, 1911 – February 3, 1943) was a Rabbi and member of the U.S. Army. He was one of the Four Chaplains who sacrificed to save fellow soldiers when the troop transport Dorchester sank during World War II. Before his service, Rabbi Goode fulfilled the role of rabbi in Marion, Indiana.
Rabbi Jack H. Skirball was a Rabbi who served in Evansville, Indiana. In 1933, Skirball became the manager of Educational Films Corporation. He produced a groundbreaking film called “Birth of a Baby,” the first movie to show a baby being born. In the 1950s, Rabbi Skirball got into real estate and became wealthy. He also remained active in the Jewish community, supporting the Reform movement. However, he no longer served as a rabbi, donating funds to Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (in Los Angeles), which established the Skirball Museum in 1972. Skirball and his wife donated money to help establish the Skirball Center in the early 1980s.
Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise founded Hebrew Union College (HUC), The first Rabbinical School in American History in 1875. With a gracious $10,000 donation by Merchant Henry Adler of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, an Orthodox Jewish Immigrant from Alsace-Lorraine who had given a considerable amount of his wealth, Hebrew Union College’s first classes were offered in 1875, housed in two of Cincinnati’s synagogues. In 1881, HUC moved into its building, and four years later, its first graduates received a formal ceremony for ordination.
Janot Roskin was already active as a chorister and prayer leader in his youth and collected folk songs while traveling through his home region. In 1903, he went to Berlin. In 1911, he founded a conservatory in Berlin-Halensee, which he directed until 1918. He campaigned for the dissemination of Jewish music. In the Verlag für Nationale Volkskunst, he published “Jewish National Dances” (1919) and “Collected Jewish Songs” (1916, 1921); after fleeing Nazi Germany in 1937 In 1940, Janot and his wife Evelyn moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, after living in Boston for a few years. In Indianapolis, Janot was the Music Director at the Temple Beth-El Zedeck. Janot died in 1946. and is buried in Indianapolis. However, much of the European Folk Music he collected still lives on and is still performed.
In 1860, in Lafayette, Indiana, The Jewish community hosted the first known Jewish Egalitarian Prayer Quorum (Minyan), with Jewish women counting equally with Jewish men.
David E. Lilienthal, who grew up in Valparaiso, Indiana, and graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, later headed the Tennessee Valley Authority during the 1930s and 1940s and served as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission from 1946 to 1950. He requested access to the AEC file on Oppenheimer’s 1947 security clearance to prepare for testifying. However, as he later noted, “vital parts of these records had been removed without my knowledge.” Those very documents, he believed, were then used by Roger Robb to cast doubt on his trustworthiness. In a quote attributed to Lilienthal regarding Oppenheimer, “Here is a man of good character, integrity, and loyalty to his country.”
Jewish Rock Star David Lee Roth was born October 10, 1954, in Bloomington, Indiana. For the most part, Roth grew up in New Castle, Indiana. In a 2019 interview with Q95’s “Stuck and Gunner,” he explained: “My grandparents moved to New Castle in 1913.”
Joe and Sophie Newman of South Bend, Indiana’s daughter, Rita Jo, was injured at birth, resulting in profound developmental disabilities. Inspired by their daughter’s unique needs and influenced by his parents’ revolutionary activism, they founded a local organization for the families of developmentally and intellectually challenged children. Joe was the organization’s first president, and he played a crucial role in successfully advocating for the passage of legislation funding the first special education services in the state. In 1950, Joe and Sophie co-founded The Logan School with just $25 in the treasury. Now known as LOGAN, it has grown into a multi-million-dollar organization supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
Nathan Morris was the first Jewish President of the Indiana Bar Association and a self-educated attorney; Morris died in a house fire in 1903 in which he managed to rescue all but one of the other family members soon after The Nathan Morris Immigrant Settlement Home was named in his honor which was one of the original projects of the Indianapolis Jewish Federation created to assist Jewish immigrants on the South Side of Indianapolis.
Born in Indianapolis, Emma Messing, one of the first women to enter American diplomatic service, served in the U.S. Embassy in Berlin from 1921 to 1939.
Alvin M. Strauss was born in 1895 to immigrant Jewish German parents in Kendallville, Indiana; Strauss was a Fort Wayne-based architect who designed many early 20th-century landmarks in Indiana, such as thirteen buildings at Indiana University in Bloomington. The Embassy Theatre, the Indiana Hotel, the Fort Wayne War Memorial Coliseum, and the Lincoln Bank Tower.
Sidney Patrick Grauman (March 17, 1879 – March 5, 1950) was an American Jewish showman who created two of Hollywood’s most recognizable and visited landmarks, the Chinese and Egyptian theatres. He was born in Indianapolis.
A Disabled World War 1 veteran, Rabbi Michael Aaronsohn, 1924, first organized Jewish life at Indiana University Bloomington Years before the establishment of Hillel at I.U. in 1938. The “student congregation” was founded with 30 Jewish I.U. Bloomington Students Aaronsohn fought in the Argonne offensive in France in 1918; he was hit by a shell, leaving him blind. Later, Michael Aaronsohn was a Rabbi ordained at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati but also had a student pulpit in Richmond, Indiana. He shared his inspirational tale of navigating life as a blinded veteran and a Rabbi throughout the state to Indiana’s Jewish communities in the 1920s.
Jules C. Stein (April 26, 1896 – April 29, 1981) was an American physician and businessman who co-founded Music Corporation of America (MCA).was born in South Bend, Indiana, to Lithuanian Jewish immigrants.
In 1857, was Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati’s legendary Prayer Book Minhag America (Customs of America) initially adopted by the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation? After Rabbi Isaac M. Wise spoke in Indianapolis, The Minhag America prayerbook at Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation was adopted nearly two months before Rabbi I.M Wises’ congregation adopted the Prayer-book, making Indianapolis the first place the American History the Minhag America’s Jewish Liturgy was officially adopted, in Jewish religious service!
In 1870: “A petition by Jews living in Indianapolis, Indiana (Local B’nai Brith chapter) urging President Grant to Intervene on behalf of Romanian Jews was referred to the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations.” This sparked. The United States Senate spent an hour that morning discussing the recent massacre of Jews in Romania. Senator Morton of Indiana requested President Grant intervene to “save the Jews of” Romania “from further persecutions.”
In the film “The Founder” from 2016, Harry J. Sonneborn, born in Evansville, Indiana, is portrayed by actor B. J. Novak, who said, “You’re not in the burger business; you’re in the real estate business.”
Rabbi Milton Steinberg became the first Rabbi of Congregation Beth El Zedeck in Indianapolis. Later, he wrote Jewish classics such as “As a Driven Leaf” and “Basic Judaism.”
World-renowned Jewish violinist and conductor Joshua Bell was born in Bloomington, Indiana.
Sarah Wolf Goodman, an Indianapolis Jewish community leader in the Jewish Federation and a trailblazer nationally with Hadassah, was mandated as the Chair of the Indiana State Committee of the Jewish Welfare Board responsible for assisting Jewish military personnel in Indiana during World War Two. Her connections, ability for fundraising, and good governance were greatly appreciated in running a state-wide Jewish war effort. Sarah Wolf Goodman traveled all over Indiana, working with local USOs and Military installations to provide for Jewish U.S. Military In Indiana members’ religious, social, and emotional needs in places such as Camp Atterbury and Stout Field. Sarah Wolf Goodman also worked with local Jewish communities to raise funds and organize Programs for the Jewish Troops in areas such as Vincennes, Evansville, Columbus, Franklin, Peru, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne’s Baer Field, Whiting, East Chicago, Indianapolis, and Marion, Indiana.
Samuel Judah from Vincennes, Indiana, was elected Indiana’s first and only Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives in 1840.
The Indiana Governor’s Mansion from 1919 to 1945 in Indianapolis was built initially for Henry Kahn in 1908. A Bloomington, Indiana native, Kahn (1860-1934) was a very successful manufacturer, and his Kahn Tailoring Company had more than 2000 dealers and 12 retail stores across the country. The building was sold to the Marriott Hotel and demolished in 1962.
Thelma “Tiby” Eisen (May 11, 1922 – May 11, 2014) was an outfielder from 1944 through 1952 in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. She was born and raised by an Orthodox Jewish family in L.A. and played for the Fort Wayne Daisies (1947–’52).
Simon Wile (1830-1907) was a representative in the State Legislature from La Porte, Indiana, and in 1869 sponsored the first child labor law in the United States.
Indianapolis-born Rabbi Abraham Cronbach would serve as the Rabbi of Temple Beth El in South Bend. Years later, Rabbi Cronbach appeared with Julius Rosenberg’s mother and the Rosenbergs’ two small sons at a protest meeting in front of the White House after the Rosenbergs had been found guilty. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed at Sing Sing prison in New York on June 19, 1953, more than two years after being found guilty of conspiracy to commit espionage. Cronbach gave a eulogy at Rosenberg’s funeral on June 21, 1953.
Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who developed synthetic acetone for the British in WWII, used the royalties from producing the product in Commercial Solvents Corporation in Terre Haute to fulfill his dream of Israel. He later became the first President of the modern state of Israel. He was posthumously honored by Governor Mike Pence as a Sagamore of the Wabash on May 30, 2013, at CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Sydney Pollack (July 1, 1934 – May 26, 2008) was an American film director, producer, and actor. Pollack was born in Lafayette, Indiana, to a family of Russian Jewish immigrants, the Son of Rebecca (née Miller) and David Pollack, a semi-professional boxer and pharmacist. The family relocated to South Bend; Pollack directed over 20 films and ten television shows, acted in over 30 movies or shows, and produced over 44 films. For his film Out of Africa (1985), Pollack won the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture.
Bertha Beitman Herzog was born in Washington, Indiana, and grew up in Wabash, Indiana. She helped found several local organizations, including the Cleveland Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations and the Jewish Big Sister Association.
Astronaut David Wolf was born and raised in Indianapolis. He holds degrees from Purdue and Indiana University.
Florence Melton moved to Terre Haute in the early 1930s to mid-1930s. Her Son Gordon was born in 1933 in Terre Haute, where she was disappointed by the level of Jewish Education in the community that she felt was dominated by classical Reform ideas about assimilation. The local Temple also forbade Zionist activities and banned Hadassah, which she was deeply involved in. The Temple later reconsidered and allowed Hadassah membership in the Temple after the Hadassah Members threatened to quit the Temple. She wanted to create more access to quality pluralistic Jewish Educational opportunities. Later, she founded the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, the world’s largest pluralistic adult Jewish education network, with 50 Melton communities throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. With More than 50,000 learners in Melton’s Curriculum.
The Klan in Indiana led a successful boycott in Indianapolis of the 1923 Movie “Potash and Perlmutter” merely because the film’s leading characters were Jews, according to the Book “A Fever in the Heartland” by Timothy Egan.
The child of Russian Jewish Immigrants, Ramil “Ray” Arcel, was born in Terre Haute, Indiana. A boxing trainer who worked with twenty-two world champions, including Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, Jim Braddock, Tony Zale, Billy Soose, Ezzard Charles, and Roberto Duran.
Amy Eilberg was the first woman ordained to be a Rabbi in Conservative Judaism. Eilberg’s first rabbinic position was as a chaplain at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The first purposely built Synagogue in Indiana in 1865 on Washington Ave for the B’nai Israel Congregation. In Evansville, Indiana, built on land donated by the Gumberts family: They arrived in Evansville in 1837 and were the first known Jewish family to settle in Indiana permanently. The Gumberts originally immigrated to America Rathsweiler, Rheinland-Pfalz, which is now located in Germany today.
Lawrence M. Langer (22 December 1913 – 17 January 2000) was a Jewish American Professor at Indiana University Bloomington and a nuclear physicist and a group leader of the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He oversaw the final assembly of the first nuclear bomb on the Pacific Island of Tinian. He slept on the bomb itself the night before it was dropped. He also developed sonar and radar detectors during World War II and worked on the “gun” mechanism used to detonate the Uranium-235 bomb used on Hiroshima.
Congregation Achduth Vesholom in Fort Wayne was founded as the first Synagogue in Indiana founded the same year in 1848 as the first Synagogue was founded in Brooklyn, New York.
Hebrew National Kosher Sausage Factory, Inc., had a manufacturing plant in Indianapolis from 1989 until 2004.
Only one year after Gary, Indiana, was founded in 1907, Menachem Mendel Sensibar and his Son Jacob helped to form the city’s first Jewish Prayer Group. He was born in Czarist, Lithuania, in 1860. He arrived in America in 1903. After a short stint in the town of Rishon l’Zion in Ottoman Palestine, Mendel soon supervised the building of the Park in Aetna, which is now part of Gary, Indiana. His Son Jacob Sensibar leveled dunes to help create parts of Gary, Indiana and was famous for creating much of the beach area around Chicago.
Actor Abraham Benrubi, from the T.V. show E.R., attended Broad Ripple High School in Indianapolis. His paternal grandfather was from a Greek-Jewish family. His paternal grandmother, born to a Greek Orthodox Christian family, helped harbor Jews in Greece during World War II and later converted to Judaism.
John Jacob Hays was the first known Jewish resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1820.
Samuel Herschel Schulman (July 8, 1928 – July 5, 2019) was born to Jewish immigrants from Poland in Terre Haute, Indiana. Schulman was the last surviving American crew member of the ship Exodus 1947, which tried to bring thousands of Holocaust survivors from Europe to Mandatory Palestine.
Singer Adam Lambert, born in Indianapolis, was the runner-up on the T.V. show’s eighth season, “American Idol,” 2009. Before his American Idol notoriety, he acquired experience performing within the Jewish community.
Saul Bellow’s Novel Ravelstein was based on his friend and colleague, The Indianapolis, and raised Jewish Philosopher Allan Bloom, who grew up at Congregation Beth El-Zedeck and was on the debate team.
Hubert L. Dreyfus was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, and was an expert in phenomenology, existentialism, and philosophical implications of A.I. and his explanation of Heidegger, which critics labeled “Dreydegger.” And was the inspiration for the Futurama character “Professor Hubert Farnsworth.
Hamilton Nussbaum co-founded the Conservatory of Music in Marion, Indiana, with his brother Percy Nussbaum in 1898, and it was run by the Nussbaum brothers until 1917. Both Brothers were born in LaPorte, Indiana, to immigrant Jewish parents from Sachsen, Prussia (Germany). The Conservatory was famous for turning out legendary musical phenom Cole Porter.
Paul Samuelson was born in Gary, Indiana. He was the first Jewish American to receive the Nobel Prize for Economics (1970) to contribute to economics. Samuelson is considered by many to be the founder of neoclassical economics.
The World’s First Home Gaming System was made In Fort Wayne, Indiana, by a German-born Jewish Immigrant, Ralph Baer, later known as the Magnavox Odyssey.
Gen. Frederick Knefler, a Hungarian Jewish Immigrant to Indianapolis, became one of the highest-ranking Jews in the Union Army during the Civil War. As President of the board of regents of Indiana’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument, he oversaw the cornerstone laying in the center of Indianapolis on August 22, 1889, but sadly died before its completion in 1902.
Milton Kraus, a Republican member of Indiana’s House of Representatives, was born in Kokomo, Indiana. He organized a company of volunteers for the Spanish-American War. He served in the 65th, 66th, and 67th Congresses. His defeat in Congress was partly due to an aggressive press campaign from the Indiana Klan.
Actor Michael Rosenbaum, who starred in “Smallville,” was raised in Newburg and attended Castle High School there. Best known for portraying Lex Luthor on the Superman T.V. series “Smallville,” he was celebrated by T.V. Guide in 2013 as one of the 60 Nastiest Bad Guys of All Time.
Isadore Levine (1897-1963) of La Porte, Indiana, was the first Jewish justice on the Indiana Supreme Court.
Although considered one of the most famous baritone singers of Hebrew in the World, Cantor Myro Glass was forced to work in a Coal Mines when he first immigrated to America from Austria before eventually becoming the Cantor of Congregation Beth El Zedeck in Indianapolis when Rabbi Milton Steinberg invited him.
Bernard Sobel, the Son of Polish Jewish Immigrants Nathan L. and Hattie Levy Sobel. Born on March 13, 1887, in Attica, Indiana, he was known as a publicist, American playwright, and historian of American entertainment in later years. He helped Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers, Len Errol, Vivienne Segal, Billie Burke, and many other famous, talented performers.
Rabbi David Philipson, born in 1862 in Wabash, Indiana, co-wrote the Union Prayer Book, the central prayer book for Reform Judaism, and presided over the first few of its re-publishings. He also became the leader of the Reform Movement after Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wises’ death.
Max Nirdlinger was born in Fort Wayne and owned the original National Association of Pro Baseball Players franchises in 1871. Playing against Teams from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston, his Fort Wayne Kekiongas team did not fare well. Still, they played the first game in pro History on May 4, 1871, with a 2 to 0 win at Kekionga Ballpark over the Cleveland Forest Citys. In the 1880s, he owned a baseball bat-making company in Fort Wayne.
Indianapolis Born Larry Frisch Directed Ma’aseh B’Monit (Tel Aviv Taxi). The latter, released in 1956, was the first Hebrew feature film in History to be produced entirely in Israel.
One of the world’s largest multinational Banking Firms, Kuhn, Loeb & Co., was started in Lafayette, Indiana. In 1849, Abraham Kuhn, a Jewish Immigrant born in Rhineland-Palatinate, married Regina Loeb, a sister of his future partner, Solomon Loeb. In 1849, he was initially a peddler. In 1850, he formed a general partnership in a merchandising firm in Lafayette, Indiana, with his brother-in-law Solomon Loeb.
Jewish Indiana native, legendary retailer, and Vincennes University graduate Jacob Gimbel. In August of 1910, Jake financed an expedition to Georgetown, British Guiana, in South America, to search for a mysterious electric fish of the Order Gymnotiformes. Fish within this Order possess organs that generate electrical discharges. The electric eel is the only species of this Order that can generate enough electricity to stun prey–860 volts for two milliseconds. Shots from other species can produce only a few millivolts and are used for navigation, communication, and mating. The search for this mystery fish was successful, and it was named Porotergus gimbeli after the expedition’s sponsor.”
Jacob and Rachel Toledano were Sephardic Jews from the city of Monastir, then part of the Ottoman Empire and today part of Northern Macedonia, who Immigrated to Indianapolis in 1906 and were some of the first known Sephardic Jews to settle on the South Side of Indianapolis.
Indiana Jewish Trivia is updated often. Bookmark this page for more fun facts about Jews in the Hoosier state!