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  • Wolf Kohlhagen (1837 - 1900)
    In the 1850's, Wolf Kohlhagen came to Vermont and based himself with relatives in the town of East Poultney. Wolf Kohlhagen repaired clocks and watches, traveling from one small town to another. Accord...

Vermont Jewish History

Who was the first Jew in Vermont?

Jacob Rader Marcus "The careful historian soon comes to the unfailing rule that no Jew is ever the first Jew in any town: there is always one who had been there before him. "

However, Myron Samuelson lists the name Samson Simson first in his discussion of speculators in the lands of the Hampshire Grants in the 1760s. Simson and Myer Myers had business arrangements with Ira and Ethan Allen, but probably did not live in Vermont themselves.

Samuel Seaman of Jerusalem also may be considered since he was one of the proprietors of land in Williston, VT. Myron Samuelson, The Story of the Jewish Community of Burlington, Vermont. 1976.

Samuelson claims that Poultney, Vermont, was where the first Jewish Congregation was formed in 1870. Source

Merchants would gather on the Sabbath and when enough returned habitually, they decided to organize a congregation. Poultney historians say the first congregation was formed in 1888. Source

Middlebury College Professor Robert Schine's research points up ... [T]the “lesser-known fact,” he explains, is that a third of them [Jews] settled in small towns. Source

Old Ohavi Zedek Synagogue was founded in 1885.

Madeleine May Kunin, first Jewish (Woman) Governor 1985 until 1991.

In 1961, Raul Hilberg published "The Destruction of the European Jews", and today the University of Vermont, where he taught for years, hosts the Raul Hilberg Center for Holocaust Studies: Source

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Burlington, VT

Most of the first Jewish immigrants came to Burlington with next to nothing. With few options for work open to them, many became peddlers, walking miles with back-breaking packs. Determined to preserve their religious traditions, they came home weekly to observe the Sabbath. A French-Canadian cabinet maker let them hold their first prayer congregation, or minyan, in his Old North End shop.

The founding families would go on to build three neighbourhood synagogues that became the centres of community life. In a scene from the film, Marshall London visits the original Ohavi Zedek synagogue (now Ahavath Gerim) with its homemade copper ark, recalling his grandfathers at prayer.

Many of the peddlers would eventually start their own businesses. By the early 20th century, the bustling neighbourhood was dotted with groceries, junk dealers, bottlers and stores selling dry goods, candy, clothing and furniture.

People who grew up there recall the quiet beauty and good food of Sabbaths. They speak nostalgically of a tough but simple way of life in the tight-knit community their forebears created. Source

Read about efforts to restore the Lost Shul Mural. Recent articles in the New York Times and the Jewish Daily Forward highlight the beauty and importance of this old world remnant.