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The Wandering Jew, someone without roots in a community, is often joked about as those in the Jewish community move from community to community seeking upward mobility. But the origins of the actual term is a negative one, as legend has it originating in Biblical times with Cain sent off as the original wandering Jew. A story in Genesis has Cain being issued the punishment to wander the earth, never reaping a harvest, only scavenging. During Medieval times, another legend had an eternal wanderer without the possibility to rest until the second coming of Christ, and gave justification to communities as Jews were vilified, attacked and cast out of many eastern European communities.
In the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Joseph Jacobs commented, "It is difficult to tell in any one of these cases how far the story is an entire fiction and how far some ingenious impostor took advantage of the existence of the myth."
In reality, Jews have been in America since colonial days for the same reason as other religious and ethnic groups – for religious freedom and to escape religious persecution, just as the original Pilgrims.
A man named Joachim Gans was the first Jewish-born person to arrive on American soil, in 1584. Prior to that, a Spanish conquistador and converted Jew, Luis de Carabajal y Cueva, landed in what is now Texas in 1570. The first recorded Jew in Detroit was Chapman Abraham, a fur trader from Montreal who in 1762 traveled along the Detroit River. At the time of his death in 1783, his residence was recorded as Detroit. By 1840, there were about 15,000 Jews in the country out of a population of 17 million Americans, according to the 1840 U.S. Census, representing a small but stable middle class minority. Those that came in the 1840s were primarily German Jews, and in Detroit, many entered the fur trade, fishery business and dry goods businesses. At that time, according to historians, intermarriage with non-Jews was quite frequent, until a rapid rise in immigration led to 50,000 Jews in 1848.
During this period, Detroit's first congregation was formed at the corner of Congress and St. Antoine, called Temple Beth El, by 12 German Jewish families. It originally was a an orthodox congregation as well as a Jewish congregational cemetery. In 1861, Beth El became a Reform temple, having adopted a new set of laws from the then emerging and innovative branch of the religion, and moved to Rivard Street. The change to the Reform movement lead some more traditional members to be very unhappy with the reforms. Seventeen of the more Orthodox members left, forming Congregation Shaarey Zedek, which later became a Conservative congregation....continued on page 2