A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Our Rich History: Jewish history in Newport — immigrants came for jobs, built a synagogue

By Jeannine Kreinbrink
Special to NKyTribune

Part 47 of our series, “Resilience and Renaissance: Newport, Kentucky, 1795-2020.”

The West End of Newport, Kentucky, was an incredibly diverse neighborhood. Anchored by large manufacturing facilities, in particular a massive steel mill, immigrants of many nations, religions, and ethnicities flocked to the city to avail themselves of employment opportunities.

By the late 19th Century, the West End was predominantly German, with smaller percentages of Irish, Welsh, and English backgrounds. In that respect, it echoed urban centers all along the Ohio River Valley, which were predominately of German immigrant heritage. In contrast to the rest of the state of Kentucky, however, Newport and neighboring Covington (across the Licking River from Newport’s West End), relied upon immigrant labor to staff their factories. While only 4% of the manufacturing workforce was foreign-born in Kentucky, the number was much larger in Northern Kentucky, 16.5%. The demographics were clear — where jobs were available, immigrants followed.

The United Hebrew Congregation, West 5th St., Newport. Source: Goldring-Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, “Covington/Newport Kentucky” in the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, 2006)

Immigrants represented many national and religious backgrounds. For example, due to its location across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio, Newport has had a long history of Jewish settlement. In the latter part of the 19th Century, Russian and Polish Jews began to settle in the Newport/Covington area of Northern Kentucky. The early immigrants consisted of merchants, bakers, tailors, and cobblers.

Initially, the Jewish families assembled into casual groups and held prayer services at temporary locations, such as a member’s residence. By 1897, there were enough Jewish families in the area, and the need for a proper synagogue arose. The United Hebrew Congregation was formed to undertake the task of establishing one.
Although listed before 1900 as being German ethnic, several families along West 6th Street were of Jewish religious background. The 1900 census identified two families, the Okrent and Kaplan families on the south side of West 6th Street, as Russian immigrants. Beginning in the late 1800s, an influx of Russian and Polish immigrants transformed this western part of Newport into a Jewish neighborhood. By the 1920s, Newport and Covington had over 1,000 Jewish residents. Many of the Newport immigrants moved to the city’s West End.

In 1904, the United Hebrew Congregation purchased a former church building along West Fifth Street, converted it into a synagogue, and hired Rabbi Samuel Levinson. In 1906, they organized the Free Hebrew School which met at a building along Patterson Street. That same year, residents formed the Jewish Protection League that consisted of over 200 members who fought anti-Semitism in the city and helped to pressure the local police force to combat anti-Semitic crimes against its citizens.

The United Hebrew Congregation (1897-circa 1966) was not the only early synagogue in Newport. In 1916, a group of recent Jewish immigrants purchased a house in Lot 188 at 430 West 6th Street and established a congregation known as Ohave Sholom. Ohave Sholom, a Hebrew phrase, translates as “Lovers of Peace.”  The congregation was Orthodox in its worship and lasted from circa 1918 to about 1925. The house was torn town sometime before 1938, probably as a result of flood damage from the 1937 flood.

The Jewish community continued to thrive in Northern Kentucky with over 1,000 members in Newport and Covington by the 1920s. By the 1920 census, more than 60% of the households in the West 6th Street and West 7th Street neighborhood of Newport’s West End included at least one Jewish family. However by the mid-20th century, most of the Jewish residents had migrated north to Cincinnati to take advantage of its larger Jewish population with more social and educational opportunities. The devastating floods of 1936 and 1937 also hastened the demise of the local Jewish population, as many of their residences and businesses were destroyed, making the move northward more opportune. From the 1950s to today, the Jewish population of Newport has continued to shift its focus to Cincinnati, and the city’s congregations closed.

For further information, see:

• Goldring-Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, Covington/Newport Kentucky in the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities, 2006, https://www.isjl.org/kentucky-newport-encyclopedia.html

• Jeannine Kreinbrink, Justin Zink, and Doug VonStrohe, Phase II Archaeology Testing for the Scholar House South Property, Newport, Campbell County, Kentucky, On file at the Ky Office of State Archaeology, Lexington, Ky., 2014

• W. Steven McBride and Kim A. McBride, Chapter 8: Historic Period. In Kentucky Heritage Council State Historic Preservation Comprehensive Plan Report. No 3, Volume 2. Edited by David Pollack, Kentucky Heritage Council, Frankfort, Kentucky, 2008.

Jeannine Kreinbrink, MA, RPA is a noted regional archaeologist, and partner of K&V Cultural Resources Management, LLC. She has published many reports and articles, including for The Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment