One of the world’s great Jewish communities “began” in 1948 – but not without a fight.
No, not Israel – this fight occurred along Fairmount Boulevard, not the Red Sea.
Fairmount Temple wasn’t the first Jewish congregation to set up shop in Beachwood. That honor belonged to Suburban Temple Kol-Ami, according to Sean Martin, associate curator of Jewish history at the Western Reserve Historical Society. Still, with its 1,800 families, a relatively large number, Fairmount Temple inspired a years-long battle that went all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The battleground over the temple was littered with legitimate fears – including how such an enormous congregation, bigger than the village of Beachwood itself at the time, would change the character of the community – as well as anti-Semitism.
“Their whole rationale was if we build these religious institutions then we’re really becoming a much different, much larger town and it changes the nature of the village, which is true. Of course it does, but of course it was anti-Semitism that was behind some of that,” Martin said.
This marked Beachwood’s “last sputtering” of anti-Semitism, according to Martin.
“It was serious enough to cause a problem, but it was always clear that it was going to be overcome,” Martin said.
Fairmount Temple was built.
Beachwood’s path to becoming a prominent Jewish suburb of Cleveland was cleared.
Jewish entities abound
Today, Beachwood is a smorgasbord of institutional Jewish delicacies.
There’s the Mandel Jewish Community Center, congregations and Jewish day schools of every stripe, numerous Jewish summer camps, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.
“It makes a huge difference,” said Debra Posner, chief marketing and membership officer at the Mandel JCC. “We love having partners and we love having so many Jewish organizations within our midst.”
An aspiring singer looks at the bright lights of Broadway and dreams of living among them. A want-to-be actor sees the stars of the Hollywood Walk of Fame and is ready to pack his or her bags for Los Angeles. Beachwood has the same logical appeal for Jewish families – except it’s not as famous as Los Angeles or New York.
When Rabbi Avery Joel, principal of Fuchs Mizrachi’s Stark High School, sought to leave the New York area, Beachwood wasn’t on his list. He knew about Cleveland’s sports teams. He knew a little bit about Cleveland’s Jewish community. After a visit, the strength of the latter apparently outweighed the historic weakness of the former.
“When you think about Beachwood and the Greater Cleveland area, there’s such a rich and strong Jewish infrastructure that you know when you come here you’re going to have everything you need to live a fully Jewish life,” Joel said. “It’s great for our children to grow up in a community where there is that Jewish diversity and for them to understand that being part of the Jewish people is being part of a rich and colorful tapestry.”
Almost 90 percent Jewish
Beachwood is largely Jewish.
Beachwood is also a suburb.
A stroll through Beachwood Place is more reminiscent of downtown Scarsdale than Crown Heights.
“By the ’60s and ’70s, it has a good reputation for public schools and it offers them a good place to simply raise their kids,” Martin said. “It really is a typical suburb. It really is clean and friendly and not far from downtown.”
Beachwood’s growth was similar to that of other suburbs. People wanted to escape pollution, overcrowding, and as was often the case in the “white flight” era, African-American neighbors. Glenville, significantly Jewish in 1922, according to Scott Cline’s “Jews and Judaism” in “The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History,” is roughly 97 percent African-American. Glenville High School was 90 percent Jewish at one point.
“Its main thoroughfares were lined with small shops, kosher butchers and delicatessens,” Cline wrote.
Jewish people were already in the Eastern suburbs long before “white flight” swept the nation. After World War II, more and more made the move east.
“It really is an astonishingly quick move to the eastern suburbs,” Martin said.
Like their fellow suburbanites, they were empowered by one invention more than anything.
“What it comes down to is it’s really all about automobiles,” Martin said. “People are able to live farther away from the city and still work in it.”
Today, the Jewish population of Beachwood is 89.5 percent, according to the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s 2011 population study.
Making the move
“The Temple must embark on a program to build a branch school east of Green Road between South Woodland and Cedar and west of SOM Center.”
That conclusion, presented by Judah Rubinstein from the Jewish Community Federation in 1967, sparked The Temple Tifereth-Israel’s journey to Beachwood.
Fourteen years later, “a master plan recommended major renovation of the Mayfield Road building” of the Jewish Community Center in Cleveland Heights and “construction of a day camp and family recreation area as well as a second site,” according to “The Encyclopedia of Jewish History.” This led to the formation of the Mandel JCC on South Woodland Road in Beachwood.
As Jewish institutions sprung up in Beachwood, the city’s appeal only grew. While the Jewish population in the Northern Heights (i.e. Euclid and Mayfield Heights) dropped by an astounding 39 percent from 1996 to 2011, according to the 2011 Greater Cleveland Jewish Population study, it went up by nearly 10,000 in the East Side suburbs and southwest suburbs – Beachwood and Solon included.
Still, while Beachwood may be the cultural home of Judaism in Greater Cleveland – and indeed boasts the second-highest Jewish concentration of any city outside of Israel – it still houses a mere 13 percent of Greater Cleveland’s Jewish population.