By Bayley Carl
Marketing and Engagement Associate
Jewish people have been in Northampton County for more than 300 years. Whether or not you knew that, you can likely learn a lot from the new self-guided virtual tour “From Past to Present: A Jewish History Tour of Easton.”
Presented by the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society and the Sigal Museum, the 12-stop online tour covers Easton’s Jewish history from the 1650s. That was when Jewish refugees from Brazil traveled from New Amsterdam (present-day New York) to Northampton County.
A century later, a census recorded 103 taxable men in Easton, 11 of whom were Jewish. Those Jews likely chose to settle here because of economic opportunity and the large German-speaking population. The census recorded that they worked in several different professions, including baker, mason, and lawyer. The community existed for 80 years, until 1774, without a rabbi.
By the 1830s, Easton was the largest town in Pennsylvania north of Philadelphia. Owing to the Lehigh Canal, it became a major shipping center. Exports included coal, iron ore, slate, and timber.
About this time, Bavarian Jews began to move to the United States. Many became roaming peddlers. They likely went on to form the merchant class, and by the early 1900s, storefronts had begun to pop up. Also during this time, a number of Eastern European and western Russian Jews fleeing violence at home settled in Easton.
In 1839, Temple Covenant of Peace was founded. The congregation quickly outgrew its space and constructed a new synagogue in 1842 that was used for 117 years.
Bnai Abraham Synagogue came later, moving into an old firehouse. In 1906, the congregation bought land and had its own building constructed.
The following century saw some struggle between tradition and change. Different Jewish groups came together. German Jews were generally Reform, and European Jews Conservative. Yiddish was spoken less.
Meanwhile, the Jewish population continued to grow into the 1980s.
A study done by the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley in 2007 found that there were about 4,000 Jewish households in the valley, about 2 percent of the population.
There’s much more than this to the tour. One could easily spend hours at just one stop. Though the tour is virtual, it provides addresses of important locations so interested participants can visit in person.
For information on the tour and on buying tickets, visit the Sigal Museum website at sigalmuseum.org. Tickets are $10 per device. Once you start a tour, you can access it anytime during that month.
If you have questions, the museum staff can be reached at 610-253-1222 and is very helpful.