Shalom Chicago

Chicago Jewish History

Jews first came to Chicago from Prussia, Austria, Bohemia and sections of modern-day Poland, fleeing oppression to settle in the Chicago area as early as 1832. Chicago's first Jewish congregation was founded in 1847.

Growth & Expansion

The expansion of the Jewish community was slow but steady. Between 1880 and 1900, a wave of 55,000 Russian and Polish Jews crowded into the Maxwell Street market neighborhood. Yiddish was the language of choice. Dozens of Hebrew schools and Yiddish theaters were organized, and 40 shuls were built within walking distance of Halsted and Maxwell streets.


As successive waves of Jewish immigrants became settled and successful, the Jewish community began expanding. In addition to continued growth on the South Side, neighborhoods such as Lawndale and Douglas Park on the West Side and Albany Park, Humboldt Park, Lake View, Uptown and Edgewater on the North Side became vibrant Jewish communities. Many Chicago Jews today trace their roots in this city to one or more of these areas.


During the past decade, the Chicago Jewish community has welcomed and resettled more than 19,000 newcomers from Russia and other former Soviet republics. Like the immigrants before them, these new arrivals have quickly adapted to American Jewish life, and have begun to make an indelible impact on our diverse community.

Contemporary Chicago

Today about one-third of the area's Jews live in the city of Chicago, with the largest concentration in West Rogers Park. Two-thirds of the area's Jews live in the suburbs, especially on the North Shore from Evanston to Highland Park, and to the northwest from Skokie to Buffalo Grove. There are also significant numbers of Jews in the South Suburbs and to the west in DuPage County. In fact, Jews can be found in 180 disparate zip codes in the metropolitan area.

Jewish Education & Travel

Chicago Jews' connections to Israel and Judaism are strong. Nearly half (45%) of Chicago's Jews have visited Israel (compared to 35% of U.S. Jews overall), and just 18% of all married adult Jews in Chicago are married to non-Jews (vs. 31% nationally).  73% of Jewish children ages 6-13 are enrolled in formal Jewish education, and 60% of Jewish youth attend Jewish preschool by age 6.

One in three (35%) Jewish adults in Chicago participates in adult Jewish education, and 42% of Chicago Jews belong to a congregation. Like Jews throughout the U.S., most Chicago Jews identify as members of the Reform (Progressive) or Conservative (Masorti) movements. On a secular level, Chicago's Jewish population is very well educated; 71% of adults hold at least one college degree and 30% have earned at least one graduate degree.