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Jewish History of Philaelphia

This unit explores the lives of Jewish immigrants that settled in Philadelphia between the late-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. These people left their homelands for a variety of reasons  in search for better opportunities. Once in Philadelphia, they rebuilt their lives learning to integrate into a new country while still maintaining their cultural roots and religious customs. Their histories are part of a larger narrative  of  social and cultural transformations that affected the Unites States.  These lessons will answer questions such as: Why did they choose to leave their country? How did they move across the globe? and How did their lives change in the United States? These main questions connect the local history of Jewish-Philadelphia with a national, and international, scope.

The establishment of immigrants in a new place has many layers, which is why the lessons in this unit examine cases of both individuals and families. These levels of analysis provide the students with a broader understanding of Jewish immigrant history before and after arriving in Philadelphia. These cases also unveil how the process of integration in a new country is not an isolated process, rather it depends on social networks and collaboration.

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19th century

20th century

Ethnic history


Essential Questions

How does continuity and change within Pennsylvania history influence your community today?

What role does analysis have in historical construction?


  • Biography is a historical construct used to reveal positive and/or negative influences an individual can have on civilization.

  • Appropriate connections to the United States and/or contemporary issues make world history more relevant to students in Pennsylvania.

  • Historical skills (organizing information chronologically, explaining historical issues, locating sources and investigate materials, synthesizing and evaluating evidence, and developing arguments and interpretations based on evidence) are used by an analytical thinker to create a historical construction.


  • Synthesize a rationale for the study of a non-American individual in world history.

  • Analyze the influence of interest groups in the political process.

  • Contrast multiple perspectives of individuals and groups in interpreting other times, cultures and place.

Background Material for Teacher

Boonin, Harry. “The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia.” The PhillyHistory Blog: Discoveries from the City Archives, March 5, 2008.

Finkelstein, Norman H. “Jews in the Civil War. Addressing the moral question of slavery.” My Jewish Learning.

Friedman, Murray. Jewish Life in Philadelphia, 1830-1940 (Introduction). Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1983.
Klaczynska, Barbara. “Immigration in Philadelphia, 1870-1930” (Extract). The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Otmar Hefter, Joseph. "Room for the Jew! a demand for a free and sovereign Jewish state ...a permanent way out of Jewish dispersion & distress" (Pamphlet). New York, NY 1938. Read pages 4 to 7.

“Timeline in American Jewish History.” The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.

End of Unit Assessment

Based on the lesson and  class discussions, students will write an essay on how Jewish community groups and specific individuals helped shape Philadelphia.


Plans in this Unit

Coming to America: The Boonin Family

Life Stories in Jewish Philadelphia

Grade Level

Middle School

High School

Standards/Eligible Content




About the Author

Andreina Soto is a Master of Arts in History from Villanova University and an Education Intern at HSP.


Subject Guide

Jewish Resources

Unit Plan

Immigration and Cultural Diversity in East Harlem

Unit Plan

Exploring Immigration through Political Cartoons

Lesson Plan

Exploring Anti-Irish Attitudes

Unit Plan

Italian Immigrants in Pennsylvania

Unit Plan

Ethnic Fraternal Societies and Mutual Aid

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