A History of Antisemitism in Omaha

Antisemitic flyers, Omaha, Nebraska 2018

Throughout the history of Omaha there is a long tradition of hostility towards and prejudice against Jewish people, which is called antisemitism. It has existed since the first Jews arrived in the city in the 1860s. Antisemitism was overt in Omaha into the 1960s, by which time Jews were largely viewed as part of the mainstream white Omaha culture. However, after decades of continuing hostility towards Jews in Omaha, antisemitism is obviously still present in Omaha and is currently on the rise.

This is a history of antisemitism in Omaha. Its a grab bag of events and activities that together demonstrate a startling pattern of discrimination, hatred, and more.

Anti-Semitism refers to all anti-Jewish statements, tendencies, resentments, attitudes, and actions, regardless of whether they are religiously, racially, socially, or otherwise motivated.

The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies (2004)

Jews Arrive in Omaha

Mary Antin (1881-1949) in Omaha
This pic is from a 1915 appearance in Omaha by Mary Antin (1881-1949), who was a Jewish author and immigration activist who led the struggle against antisemitism.

When Omaha was informally established in 1854, each of the city’s founders was apparently white, from an Anglo-Saxon background, and if they were religious, from a Protestant denomination – although there were a few Catholics, too.

The Omaha Claim Club was an ethnic segregation group that kept said they were out to keep “claim jumpers” and other people from this new city on the Plains. However, they did this by routinely targeting Irish, Italians, and others who weren’t accepted as white from settling in Omaha. Although the group didn’t last more than three years, their tactics focusing on mob violence and routine intimidation continued long beyond the formal existence of the group.

Arriving in 1867, brothers Max Meyer and Julius Meyer are regarded as the first Jewish settlers in Omaha. The owners of a popular store in downtown Omaha, they welcomed other Jews and were involved in the establishment of the first synagogue in Omaha in 1871. Julius Meyer was a popular trader with several local tribes, acting as an interpreter and representing tribes in several ways throughout the years. Max opened an early opera house and exposition building in Omaha, and Julius was a founder of the Omaha Musical Union. Between 1881 and 1950, thousands of Ashkenazi Jews immigrated the Meyers from Eastern Europe to Omaha fleeing pogroms and widespread poverty. At it’s absolute largest, the city’s Jewish population probably didn’t grow larger than 15,000 residents.

Despite their successes and contributions to the larger life of Omaha though, Jews and even the Meyer brothers experienced antisemitism starting in those early years. Anti-Jewish attitudes were cultivated among Omaha’s settlers and early residents, and they deepened throughout the decades.


Jewish North Omaha

These buildings were part of the Jewish community in North Omaha. From upper left, the Jewish Old Folks Home at North 25th and Charles Street; a Jewish ritual bathhouse; a synagogue still standing near 25th and Charles; the Beth Hamedresh Ados Yeshuren synagogue; and the Jewish funeral home on Cuming Street. Images courtesy of the Durham Museum Photo Archive.

Starting in the 1860s, North Omaha was home to most of Omaha’s Jewish community for more than 50 years, and had remnants for another 50 years. The Jewish community of Omaha accumulated economic and social power collectively within a few decades of arriving, and by the 1890s many wealthy Jews owned businesses, real estate, and other assets in North Omaha, downtown Omaha, and South Omaha. Aiming to become a magnet for Jewish immigration in the United States between the 1890s and 1910s, Omaha’s Jewish community brought Jews to the city who were escaping persecution and antisemitism throughout Europe. Their numbers and influence grew in North Omaha, where most Jews lived.

There were many working class Jewish families and low-income Jews living in North Omaha, too.

Shaare Zion Synagogue, 1821 North 20th Street, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is the interior of the Shaare Zion Synagogue at 1821 North 20th Street.

Mostly living in the Near North Side between Capitol Avenue and Lake Street, North Omaha’s historic Jewish community included immigrants from Germany, Russia, Poland, Romania, and Austria, along with Slovakian, Hungarians, Galatians, and people from all over eastern Europe and the Middle East. The neighborhood had more than 15 synagogues and shuls, as well as a Jewish Retirement Home, a traditional bath, and many Jewish businesses lining North 24th Street and beyond. The earliest Jewish business people were salesmen pushing carts through neighborhoods selling household wares. Later, North Omaha’s Jewish businesses included Jewish mom-and-pop grocery stores, butcher shops, fish markets, bakeries, cafes, delis; hardware, appliance, clothing, shoe and department stores; tailor shops, repair shops, pawn shops, barber shops, beauty shops; ice houses, a junk yard, a lumber yard. Drug stores, doctors offices; laundries, and dry cleaners. Many of the dance halls, night clubs, bars, billiard parlors, movie theaters in North Omaha were Jewish-owned, too.

The Near North Side was a diverse tapestry of Omaha immigrants and African Americans, with block-by-block segregation keeping families separate while the larger neighborhood was woven together. The neighborhood institutions that were truly integrated were primarily schools and parks, which between the 1910s and 1940s had Black, Jewish, eastern European, and Italian children attending them. Some businesses catered to people of all races, including grocery stores, department stores, and a few other places. However, housing, social clubs, many businesses, and of course, faith communities were severely segregated.

This is a 1945 pic of Jewish women in Omaha packing food for Russian War Relief. Pic courtesy of Durham Museum.
This is a 1945 pic of Jewish women in Omaha packing food for Russian War Relief. Pic courtesy of Durham Museum.

Starting in the 1920s, Jewish white flight was limited to wealthy families who were fleeing from racism towards the city’s Black community, which was adjacent to the Jewish neighborhoods. By the 1960s, Jewish segregation in Omaha was largely over and the final Jewish enclaves in the North Omaha community ended.

Today there are few Jews left in North Omaha, and fewer signs they were ever there in the first place.


Examples and Outcomes of Antisemitism in Omaha

1936 Rosh Hashonah picture from B'Nai Israel
This is a 1936 Rosh Hashonah picture from B’Nai Israel.

Discrimination against Jews in the history of Omaha has happened in education, employment, housing, personal relationships, media, healthcare, and social connections. Between 1904 and World War II, the city’s Jewish population increase by more than 300 percent from 3,000 to 10,000 residents. During that time, antisemitism was clear in stereotypes against Jews, conspiracy theories, anti-Zionism, and hatred targeting Jewish practices, rituals, and traditions. As Omaha’s Jewish community gained political and economic power at the turn of the 20th century, “Jews began to find themselves the objects of both political manuevering and anti-Semitic incidents.”

Following are some examples and outcomes of antisemitism in Omaha.

1. Antisemitism in the Omaha Economy

This is a 1954 pic of the Bikur Cholim Society banner at a banquet in Omaha.
This is a 1954 image of the Bikur Cholim Society banner at a banquet in Omaha. They supported a wide variety of services, which may include medical referrals, transportation to local hospitals, meals for patients and their families, senior services, support groups, medical equipment loans, accommodations for patients’ families, and more. Image courtesy of the Durham Museum Photo Archive.

The economy of Omaha has always been biased towards people accepted as “white,” and for a long time many European Jews weren’t seen that way. Instead, they were viewed as less than the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who founded the city. Because of this antisemitism in the Omaha economy, many institutions and resources were created by Jews for Jews. This strengthened the power of the Jewish dollar in Omaha, eventually opening the doors for the full integration of Jews throughout the city’s economy.

Organized in 1892, the Omaha Hebrew Club provided legal assistance for its members, especially peddlers who were “frequently involved in street disturbances as victims of anti-Semitism and ridicule,” according to one report.

Jewish businessmen in Omaha started the Jewish Free Loan Society in 1908 to be loaned out to Jews most in need. This happened because traditional banks in Omaha made loan rules too cumbersome for many immigrant Jews to meet.

A 1911 pamphlet from the Jewish Colonization Association described Omaha as a good place for Jewish immigrants to come to. They described Omaha Jews in three groups, as workers, storekeepers, and peddlers. “Anti-semitism is felt very strongly in the packinghouses among the newcomers,” the pamphlet said, and conditions for Jews in South Omaha were reported as especially bad.

In 1927, renowned Jewish lawyer and activist Aaron Sapiro (1884-1959) spoke at the Jewish Community Center in Omaha. Henry Ford, who operated a truck-manufacturing plant in Omaha from 1916 to 1927, was the target of a $1,000,000 libel lawsuit by Sapiro, who claimed Ford defamed all Jews with his antisemitic writing in his own newspaper. The suit ended as a mistrial, while the Omaha audience was widely supportive of Sapiro’s efforts.

These are just some examples of antisemitism in the Omaha economy. Do you know more? Share them in the comments section!

2. Antisemitism in Omaha Schools

“We only have the friendliest feeling for the Jewish children. We would do nothing to encourage any act of discrimination against them and we wish it fully understood that neither the local Catholics nor clergy have had anything to do with the order of exclusion.”

An anonymous member of the Sacred Heart Catholic Parish, 1899

Omaha schools have a long history of antisemitism, whether in the form of rejecting Jewish students, ignoring Jewish American history, or otherwise discriminating against Jews.

There were Jews in the first graduating class of the Omaha High School, and history reports Jewish graduates from the 1870s onward. However, these students were often excluded from school social life and not otherwise welcomed by their peers. Early Omaha curriculum doesn’t reflect any awareness of Jewish history, customs, or culture either, although it shows a clear Christian influence in the form of mentioning church, Jesus, and other religious elements.

To that point, the Mother General of the Sacred Heart Order visited Omaha’s Catholic schools from her Paris headquarters in 1899. When she found eight Jewish students attending the Sacred Heart School in North Omaha, she immediately ordered their expulsion. That church’s congregation was upset though, with a member writing, “We only have the friendliest feeling for the Jewish children. We would do nothing to encourage any act of discrimination against them and we wish it fully understood that neither the local Catholics nor clergy have had anything to do with the order of exclusion.” However, apparently nothing was done to stop the order and the students were sent to local public schools.

Throughout the years, Omaha’s school district had several instances of antisemitism. For instance, in 1913 the head of the Omaha High School (now Omaha Central High School) was demoted then fired from his tenured job without cause. Despite rallying voters to elect several new members to the school board the teacher, Nathan Bernstein, never got his job back.

Do you know of other examples of antisemitism in Omaha schools? Leave a comment on this article.

3. Antisemitism in Omaha Media

Omaha Monitor statement on antisemitism, January 20, 1921
This is a 1921 statement by Rev. John Albert Williams of the Omaha Monitor against antisemitism in the city. This Black-led, Black-focused newspaper wasn’t alone in fighting antisemitism either.

Throughout the history of the city, the media was varied in its portrayal of Jews in Omaha. Alternately demonizing and lionizing Jews, throughout the decades Omaha’s two largest newspapers and later, television stations, routinely used stereotypes and tropes against Jews for a century; later, they upheld many negative perceptions while promoting Semitic causes and issues.

Tropes of Jewish people in Omaha’s media include portrayals of the Jewish mother; the Jewish princess; and the Jewish lawyer. The stereotype of the Jewish mother made all Jewish mothers sound nagging, loud, highly-talkative, overprotective, smothering, and overbearing . Shown as spoiled and bratty, the Jewish princess stereotype was often implored in Omaha’s early newspapers. Sexist as well as antisemitic, this stereotype is often applied to all Jewish girls in Omaha. The Omaha media made Jewish lawyers seem greedy, overly diligent, and hyper-materialistic. Omaha’s media has also repeatedly featured imagery and allusions to Jewish businessmen, bankers, and students in derogatory terms as well.

It was from this background that a periodical created just for Omaha’s community began publication in 1916. Called the Jewish Press, it was a celebration of Jewish culture, heritage, and perspectives. The Jewish Press published information that was unavailable in mainstream Omaha newspapers, including the Jewish-owned Omaha Bee, which was a widely circulated newspaper published from 1871 to 1937. The founding publisher of the Omaha Bee was Edward Rosewater (1841-1906), who made many powerful enemies while successfully lobbying for liberal causes and generally reflecting well on the Jewish community. Rosewater was elected to the Nebraska State Legislature; campaigned to create the Omaha Board of Education; served on the Republican National Committee; represented the U.S. at two Universal Postal Congresses, and more. In the pages of his newspaper, Rosewater regularly advocated for liberal causes, including “public works, civil liberties, direct election of U.S. senators, labor reform, a postal telegraph system, and postal savings banks.” He also opposed trusts and unequal taxation. When he died, his son Victor Rosewater (1871–1940) carried his father’s mantle, staying involved in Republican politics, and was a founder of the American Jewish Committee. The elder Rosewater ran twice for the United States Senate and attributed his losses to antisemitism in Omaha.

There have been other Jewish-led media outlets in Omaha a swell. In 1916, Maxim and Isaac Konecky founded the Jewish Bulletin, a brash newspaper that overtly exposed antisemitism throughout Omaha, along with issues like divorce and family abandonment, and featured a pro-worker and anti-landlord bias. In 1917, when a junk dealer had a bucket of water dumped on him at the county courthouse, Konecky got a warrant for the offender’s arrest and declared in his paper, “Anti-Semitism in Omaha must be stopped.” The Konecky’s paper also had exposes on interdenominational relations and interactions between African Americans and white people. Their newspaper quickly “offended and alienated the leaders of [Omaha’s] Jewish community,” and folded under conspicuous circumstances in 1921.

The creation of the ongoing Jewish Press in 1920 was fostered by the efforts of Omaha’s Jewish leaders to silence the salaciousness of the Jewish Bulletin. This longstanding paper celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 2020 and continues to serve the city’s Jewish community.

There have been many other examples of antisemitism in Omaha media, too. Share yours in the comments.

4. Antisemitism in Omaha Civic Life

1980 Jewish Community Center of Omaha
This is a 1980 pic of the entrance to the Jewish Community Center of Omaha. Image courtesy of the Durham Museum Photo Archive.

Civic life includes any activity that benefits the health and well-being of the larger community someone belongs in. For more than 170 years, Jews have been active throughout Omaha civic life, including voting, volunteering, participating in group activities, and community building of all kinds. Antisemitism has been present throughout the city’s civic life, too.

The Omaha Claim Club was a plain example of civic life that was wholly antisemitic. Targeting anyone who wasn’t “acceptable” to the leadership of the club, there were pioneer Jews chased out of the city in its earliest years.

From the early years of the city, Jewish voters were often the target of political manipulation. In the early 1890s, the American Protective Asso­ciation attacked Omaha’s Jewish and Catholic communities in a variety of ways, including posting flyers for voters instructing them not to vote for the “gold-digging shylock Jew Max Meyer…”

Starting in the 1890s, Jews began serving in elected offices in the city, including the Omaha City Council and the Omaha School Board.

In 1900, a letter in both English and Yiddish was sent to Jewish voters urging them to vote against the incumbent mayor who “had never done anything for Jews” despite his campaign promises. The letter also claimed the mayor was responsible for firing the only Jewish police officer in Omaha and a Jewish city street sweeper. The letter urged voters to support a different candidate.

Johnny Rosenblatt was mayor of Omaha from 1954 to 1961. When he was young, Rosenblatt was a semipro baseball player who went by the name Johnny Ross because his Jewish name would draw negative attention to him.

In 1956, the leader of the Anti-Defamation League in Omaha was accused of “hate mongering” by a national group called “the Congress of Freedom.” This group promoted the Red Scare and accused the ADL of pressuring them because they were trying to stifle anti-Communist activity.

Ed Zorinsky was mayor from 1973 to 1976. Zorinsky also became Nebraska’s only Jewish U.S. senator, serving from 1976 to 1987.

Many examples of antisemitism in Omaha civic life mark the city’s history. Do you have a story to share? Leave it in the comments.

5. Antisemitism in Omaha Society

Antisemtic Omaha editoiral September 22, 1938
This is a September 22, 1938 letter to the editor of the Omaha World-Herald.

There has been a high society in Omaha since the city was founded in 1854. There have also been other cultural and social circles, events, and activities throughout history. Antisemitism was at the core of some of these activities, while it informed many others. Omaha society still exists, and while it appears to be more integrated there is still some discrimination today. Here are some examples of antisemitism in Omaha society.

It was 1876 when Jewish women started the Standard Social Club as a response to their exclusion from Omaha society gatherings. Later becoming the Metropolitan Club, the organization lasted for decades.

When the Titanic sank in 1912, Omaha Jew Emil Brandeis was the casualty from the city. One of the antisemitic rumors at the time was that Emil’s body was found in women’s clothing because he was trying to sneak onto a lifeboat. The son of Jonas Brandeis, the famous store owner, this malicious rumor was driven by antisemitism in Omaha society.

That same year, author Tillie Olsen (1912-2007) was born in North Omaha. An influential feminist author who wrote about antisemitism growing up, she was a worker and labor organizer in the 1930s in South Omaha’s meatpacking industry and was deeply influenced by the Jewish socialists of North Omaha.

In the 1910s, “Americanization” was important in Omaha’s Jewish community. Pushed to rid Jewish immigrants of accents and old country traditions, Omaha’s Jews experienced antisemitism in the name of nation-building. Although the flow of Jewish immigrants to Omaha has nearly stopped, hat still hasn’t stopped to some extent. In 1916, this struggle was epitomized with the publishing of an Omaha teacher’s book called “The Road to Paradise,” which told the story of a young Jewish immigrant who was depicted as “out-Americanizing the Americans.”

In 1921, the Ku Klux Klan “made a major effort” to establish a large presence in Omaha. Their Omaha agenda focused on antisemitism, as well as anti-Black and anti-Catholic hatred. According to Michael W Schuyler, Omaha’s newspaper called The Jewish Press said the campaign was, “”an ugly growth, unhealthy in root, disgusting in progress, and sickening in results.”

Creighton University took it upon itself to name an “Outstanding Omaha Jew” in 1935. Dr. Phillip Sher, president of the Jewish Community Center, received the distinction. While seemingly intended to honor the contributions of Jews to Omaha, this honorific reeks of discrimination as it thoughtlessly segregated and “other-ized” Jews from mainstream Omaha culture.

Another institution created for Jews in response to discrimination was its own country club. Jews were not allowed to join Omaha’s first country club, the Field Club, which was established in 1889. After that they were segregated from the Omaha Country Club (est. 1899) and the Happy Hollow Country Club (est. 1907), also. That led directly to the establishment of the Highland Country Club in 1924. Highland was for wealthy Jews to establish and secure connections in the same ways the city’s other country clubs did, only without the benefit of being attended by wealthy gentiles. The New York Times attributed the integration of Jews into Omaha’s other country clubs to Warren Buffet, who forcibly made them do it after he became the first gentile to join Highland. After integrating, the club stayed open for four more decades, closing in 2009. Beyond antisemitism, in 2006 the site of the former club became home to the Tri-Faith Initiative, a multi-faith space for Judaism, Christianity and Islam to co-exist. Today, a new synagogue, mosque, and church stand there.

In 1921, Omaha’s Ku Klux Klan rose and aggressively targeted Jews. During the first half of the 1920s, antisemetic rhetoric and activities were shared in the Omaha World-Herald and KKK leaders were given a megaphone for their views. The organization’s activities continued in the city for decades. In 1924, the Jewish Press wrote,

The immigrant is greeted in the new world by a flaming cross, with a mask on the face, a nightgown on the body, a blackjack on the pocket, a dagger in the hand ready to stab the new arrival in the back, and he hears a shout from a thousand lips, “You are a foreigner.”

Jewish Press, August 14, 1924

The Highland Country Club was located at 132nd and Pacific Streets, just south of the present-day location of the Jewish Community Center (JCC). Originally opened in 1926, the JCC was downtown for almost 50 years. It moved to its present location at 333 South 132nd Street in 1973. The site of important labor organizing, intellectual growth, and cultural sustainability for Omaha’s Jewish community, the JCC continues to serve in various ways including classes, theater, fitness and more. It is also attached to the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home. The JCC’s roll in establishing and maintaining the well-being of the community has been essential for combating Omaha’s antisemitism.

It was 1946 when an antisemitic activist called “America’s leading hate-monger and chief of the ‘nationalist’ movement” was reported to visit “key personnel” in Omaha, and held a mass meeting in the city. This person bragged that they were “met with opposition” with picket lines and demonstrations against their hate messages in every other city except Omaha.

Do you know of other examples of antisemitism in Omaha society? Share them in the comments.

6. Antisemitism in Omaha Healthcare

Wise Memorial Hospital, North Omaha, Nebraska
This is second Wise Memorial Hospital located on Sherman Avenue in North Omaha. Image courtesy of the author’s collection.

Jews in Omaha were subject to discrimination in the healthcare system from the founding of the city onward. Despite working to overcome these challenges, true acceptance only came with time and influence.

After continuously experiencing discrimination in the city’s public hospitals, Jews founded Omaha’s Wise Memorial Hospital on North 16th Street in 1901, moving to another North Omaha location in 1902, and finally moved into a purpose-built facility at 406 South 24th Street. Named for the founder of American Reform Judaism, Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise, the hospital’s final location was on a lot donated by the wife of Jonas Brandeis. Built in 1912 for $125,000, by 1917 the hospital treated more than 1,000 patients. It closed permanently in 1930.

After the 1913 Easter Sunday tornado ravished the large Jewish population around 24th and Lake, a Jewish-only relief center was setup near North 24th and Franklin Streets. While the outward goal was to provide fast translation in need, the underlying cause was the threat of antisemitism in the general rescue and relief efforts sweeping the community. When they arrived there, the city’s Jewish community ensured that Jewish tornado victims could get “clothing, bedding, groceries, fuel, rent money, and repairs to their homes.”

Share other examples of antisemitism in Omaha healthcare in the comments below.

7. Antisemitism in Omaha Housing

Hilltop Projects, North 30th and Lake Streets, North Omaha, Nebraska
The Hilltop Projects were located at North 30th and Lake Streets from 1952 to 1995.

For a century, Omaha housing was segregated by racial and ethnic identities. Antisemitism in Omaha housing took the form of segregation, unfair housing practices such as rent increases and insurance discrimination, and other practices.

Jews were mostly segregated into the Near North Side from the time they started arriving in large numbers during the 1870s. Living between Capitol Avenue and Lake Street, there were clusters of ethnic Jews around synagogues in the neighborhood, including Russians, Slavs, Hungarians, Romanians, Germans, and others. In addition to living in small houses and in apartments above the buildings owned primarily by Jewish businessmen, there were early apartment buildings and a few tenement-style buildings in the neighborhood. Public schools including Lake, Long, and Kellom were all regarded for their populations of Jewish students. Central and Tech high schools both had large populations of Jewish students for several decades, as well.

After the 1919 lynching of African American Will Brown and the subsequent attempted raid of the white mob against the neighborhood, white flight began in earnest. after the 1919. Many wealthy and middle class Jewish families moved to the neighborhood northwest of Memorial Park nicknamed “Bagel.” After World War II, many Jewish families moved into that area and stayed there into the 1980s.

During the 1930s while many Jewish immigrants were moving to Omaha to escape Nazism and antisemitism in Europe, many lived in destitute conditions in North Omaha and beyond. In the late 1930s, the federal government’s Works Progress Administration built several sets of public housing projects in the community, ostensibly to house these Jews. The earliest was the Logan Fontenelle Projects on North 24th, which became the city’s first segregated projects when another section was built for African Americans. Another one of the predominantly Jewish facilities was the Hilltop Projects located near North 30th and Lake Streets. Both of these were demolished in the 1990s and there is no sign of them today.

Do you know other examples of antisemitism in Omaha history? Leave them in the comments below.

8. Antisemitism in Omaha Business

This is a 1968 pic of two children holding a homemade menorah. Image courtesy of the Durham Museum Photo Archive.

As the backbone of Omaha, some historians have argued that business has been the main avenue for the segregation and integration of Jews in Omaha. Whether its been the instigation of laws and regulations targeting Jewish businesses, segregationist practices preventing non-Jews from shopping in Jewish businesses, or other practices, there has been a great deal of antisemitism in Omaha business.

In 1901, a new City of Omaha ordinance targeted Jewish grocery stores and meat markets. The stores, which stayed open on Sundays, were ordered to close to respect the Christian rule of staying closed on Sundays. With little publicity beforehand, the rule caught the Jewish businessmen by surprise. After protests for months, it was later repealed.

The Midwest chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) was founded in 1938 when Otto Swanson, a local Christian businessman, was approached to join a boycott of Jewish businesses in the city. Upset, Swanson is credited with throwing out the anti-Semite and quickly working with W. Dale Clark, banker; Milton Livingston, businessman; and Ralph Svoboda, attorney, to challenge antisemitism in Omaha business by establishing the Midlands NCCJ chapter, now known as Inclusive Communities.

Do you know of other examples of antisemitism in Omaha business? Share them in the comments section.


Antisemitism in Omaha since World War II

These antisemitic flyers were posted in Omaha neighborhoods in 2018. Image courtesy of WOWT.
These antisemitic flyers were posted in Omaha neighborhoods in 2018. Image courtesy of WOWT.

The Holocaust appeared to set a new tone for America’s Jewish community. However, antisemitism didn’t stop.

Antisemitism in Omaha was called out in the media for the first time. For instance, in 1947 the World-Herald reported that an Omaha attorney named Francis Mathews who served on the President’s Committee on Civil Rights spoke at the city’s Rotary Club and attested that in Omaha, “Discrimination against Jews is sometimes as bad as that against Negroes.” In 1949, in an editorial in the Omaha Star, a Jewish activist promoted the idea that Jews in Omaha would advance when African Americans’ civil rights improved in Omaha. However, this wasn’t the only notion; instead another was voiced in 2010 by Leo Biga, who wrote, “By and large… Jews recognized blacks have a much harder time. They can’t hide their color and so they are discriminated against.”

“There’s been outpouring of support for the Jewish community whenever these kind of things happen, and that’s something that really gives us hope and makes us happy to be here in Omaha.”

Nate Shapiro, executive director of Beth Israel Synagogue, in 2019

The hatred, distrust, and discrimination against Jews continues. 1967, the Anti-Defamation League presented a panel on antisemitism in Omaha’s social clubs. The Omaha World-Herald was accused of publishing an antisemitic op-ed “akin to Nazi propaganda” in 1981. I have found no response or retraction from the paper afterwards. In the last several years, antisemitism in Omaha has continued. Hateful flyers were posted in neighborhoods around the city in 2017, and in 2018, a large swastika was set on fire in Memorial Park.

In 2019, the Anti-Defamation League noted that antisemitism is on the rise in Omaha.

That year, at least 75 headstones were vandalized in North Omaha’s Temple Israel Cemetery, and nobody was found guilty of either of those crimes. Also in 2019, a staffer of Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts was shown to be posting antisemitic comments in online forums. Ricketts refused to condemn the behavior though. A major neo-nazi leader moved to Omaha, and also in 2019, the Plains State Anti-Defamation League issued a report that antisemitism was on the rise across Nebraska. Nate Shapiro, executive director of the Beth Israel Synagogue, was quoted as saying, “There’s been outpouring of support for the Jewish community whenever these kind of things happen, and that’s something that really gives us hope and makes us happy to be here in Omaha.” At the same time, he reported increasing security around the synagogue to ensure safety against antisemitic violence. Other synagogues did the same.

In 2021, an antisemitic message was found at Westside Middle School. The Westside School District responded by saying it believed there was no malicious intent to the action. A man was charged with vandalizing Temple Israel in 2021 after video caught him plastering stickers across the building. Eventually he met with Nate Shapiro, who became executive director of Temple Israel in 2020. Different from other incidents, the man took responsibility and issued a public apology.


Ending Antisemitism in Omaha

This is a 2000 ad for the Omaha ADL.
This is a 2000 ad for the Omaha ADL.

It can be said that all Jewish institutions outside of congregations were started in some respect because of antisemitism. Former organizations in Omaha such as the Jewish Colonization Office strove to do what other organizations would not: Serve Jewish immigrants and ensure their successes in their new city. Similarly, at a time when Omaha doctors would openly discriminate against Jews, the Wise Memorial Hospital was started in 1899 by the Jewish medical community to serve the city’s Jews as well others. The National Council of Jewish Women and Hadassah chapters were started in Omaha to be social networks for Jewish adults, while Aleph Zadik Aleph (AZA) was a national brotherhood founded in Omaha for Jewish high school youth because other youth-serving organizations in Omaha would not allow Jews to join.

Today, several organizations in Omaha strive to end antisemitism. Founded in 1900, Omaha’s B’nai B’rith chapter was started to address antisemitism. Thirteen years later, the Plains States Anti-Defamation League was started in the city to fight hate and promote fair treatment for all. The Jewish Federation of Omaha was established in 1895 to to form a “well knit Jewish community” in Omaha that works together to succeed. In 2001, the Institute for Holocaust Education was started in Omaha with the mission to provide educational resources, workshops, survivor testimony, and integrated arts programming to middle and high school students.

Other organizations working to stop antisemitism in Omaha include Inclusive Communities and the Tri-Faith Initiative.


In the long history of antisemitism in Omaha, there are wounds, scars, and suffering that continue today. Some reconciliation has happened; but as the examples above show, antisemitism continues in the city right now. In 2017, a study by the Jewish Federation of Omaha found “12,700 persons live in 5,150 Jewish households in Omaha.” Despite all these families, Omaha is still struggling to make sense of its history and present antisemitism.

The same study found,

  • 15% of respondents experienced antisemitism in Omaha in the past year.
  • 30% of children experienced antisemitism in Omaha in the past year, the second highest among about 30 comparison Jewish communities*
  • 33% of respondents perceive a great deal/moderate amount of antisemitism in Omaha, well below average among about 35 comparison Jewish communities*

Today, there are no monuments, markers, or other public acknowledgments of antisemitism in Omaha


You Might Like…

Elsewhere Online

Sources (in no order)

Bonus

This is North Omaha Chronicles “A LOT of Jewish Places”, 12-21-19. Copyright 2019 Adam Fletcher Sasse. All rights reserved.

Our Story: Recollections of Omaha's Early Jewish Community 1895-1925 (1981), edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Patricia O'Connor-Seger for the Omaha Section of the National Council of Jewish Women

Our Story: Recollections of Omaha’s Early Jewish Community 1895-1925 Edited by edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Patricia O’Connor-Seger (1981).

6 thoughts on “A History of Antisemitism in Omaha

  1. Hello North Omaha History, Adam,  Do you have any information about the phenomena or Urban Culture Shift from predominately African Americans to Asians refugee/immigrants  (Karen/Burmese) in areas of 48th Boyd/Sahler/Ames Ave to the intersection of 60th Ames Avenue?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ve Nessa, and thanks for your note. Unfortunately, I know absolutely nothing about that, and I have yet to do longterm historical research on that particular area too. Let me start into that this month and I’ll post something soon. If I find anything about the shift I’ll make sure to add it. Thanks for the heads-up.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is so sad that some people think they are better than others and any type of discrimination is absolutely wrong. I just wanted to share that my grandmother, who grew up on a farm in Irvington, graduated nursing school from Wise Memorial in 1919. Her best friend, whom she met there, Jule Levy became a lifelong friend and was always referred to as Aunt Jule by my mother and aunts. There was never any doubt as to the love between these two friends.

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  3. Thanks for your short history, Adam, complemented by the extension of it via the bibliography, many of which items I have also read. I have gained some vital facts in another of your blogs, viz., the Salvation Army Home and Hospital (one of them), while writing the memoir on my birth there and adoption through the Child Savings Institute. That was primarily focused on my Danish/Swedish-American birth mother, with another work in progress on the finding of my birth father, which was a recent surprise DNA gift. I had thought I was 100% WASP, and lo, I had a Jewish parent, who lived in Fremont, Nebraska. His name was Herman Krupinsky, whose family came from Vilsack ,Poland, in 1895.

    2. The story was that his father, Abram, had a sponsor in Omaha, but he did not come to meet him when the train stopped, so he got off at the next stop, Fremont, where a kind stationmaster let him sleep in the depot, until he found a German farmer, who could give him work. Abram soon observed that perhaps he could work with the German community in being a trader, so moved into Fremont and set up a number of businesses and prospered. He brought his family from Poland and had some more children born here. Herman was like his father and had a number of businesses in Fremont, including owning part of the Fremont County Club, where he also served as the golf pro, while playing in tournaments around the country. I guess that was the only way that a Jew could belong to a country club, certainly not in Omaha or Sioux City, my home town!

    3. Herman’s brother and my new-found uncle, M.M. (Manuel) Krupinsky moved to Omaha and worked as an executive in the trucking business. He was chairman of the Midwest Truckers Association’s Omaha chapter, when President Truman had to order the truck lines and unions to resume work, so that the war effort would not be impeded. Manuel lived to be 97 and played regularly at the segregated Highland Country Club and bowled three times a week. So, now I know where my sports genes came from!

    4. M.M.’s son, Jerry Krupinsky was a prominent realtor and president of the Rotary Club. His daughter, Dena, was an executive for Turner Color Movies in Atlanta. I would be interested if anyone would remember anything about the Krupinsky family. Please let me know!

    5. Since I grew up in Sioux City, some of the same migratory and anti-semitic forces you speak about were present there as well, especially in the country clubs. The Galveston Movement brought many Jews from Eastern Europe through that port, when New York Jews were concerned that too many were settling in the city and talk began about curtailing any further intake. I wonder how many Omaha Jews came through Galveston rather than Ellis Island or other ports.

    6. You mentioned Henry Ford and his anti-Semitic newspaper. He also bound those columns into a book and required his auto dealers to distribute them to customers. In Sioux City, my father, a minister at the First Christian Church, worked with Rabbi Gordon from Temple Sinai and local Jewish businessmen to support the main Jewish Ford dealer in resisting that. Sioux City had a large and influential Jewish population, like Omaha, but today, Sioux City has only about 350 in population, out of 82,000, compared to the 5,000, when I was growing up there.

    7. You touched on the housing biases, and I have lived in Washington, D.C., most of my work-life, with one of those roles being chief of staff to the first HUD Secretary. Ever since then, I have worked to rid the racial covenants in housing, worked against the sunset towns and their successors (see James Loewen’s book on that), and of course the redlining from FHA and the GSEs. The Levittowns and the Greenbelt towns in the 1930s and 1940s were segregated, lest we forget, and I remember looking at my deeds from houses I owned in Key Biscayne, Fl., and Spring Valley, D.C. and seeing the covenants forbidding re-sale to Jews and ‘Negroes’. Although this clause is no longer operable via federal decree, it is still a nuisance to have those still existing and I still am working with Congress to have them eliminated more easily through issuing new titles and deeds.

    8. I worked with Bob Armstrong at the Omaha Housing Authority and wonder what he would say about your comments on Fontenelle, etc. I was not familiar with those historical circumstances.

    Enough for the moment, I hope that my comments will spark some more personal experiences from Omaha residents than I can provide. kent.watkins@yahoo.com

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Adam! A few updates… Nate Shapiro is now executive director at Temple Isreal (since 2020) and there is a better ending to the story of the guy who left anti Semitic stickers on the property at Temple. Nate Shapiro met with him, they have forged a friendship and the guy issued a public apology. Temple will not be pressing charges.

    Liked by 2 people

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