The item I chose from the IJHS Collection for “My Favorite Artifact” is the 1937 Jewish Census book which has information on Jewish families in the Des Moines area. I originally thought this census was only done for the Des Moines area but found that similar censuses were done by Jewish communities all over the United States for the “American Jewish Year Book,” which has been published by the Jewish Publication Society and the American Jewish Committee at various times since 1906.
In 1935, the American Jewish Committee asked Dr. Harry S. Linfield, Director of the Jewish Statistical Bureau of the Synagogue Council of America, to prepare the groundwork for the enumeration of Jewish congregations that needed to be done in connection with the United States Census of Religious Bodies. Dr. Linfield was then appointed a Special Census Agent by the United States government to collect statistics of Jewish congregations. There was a special census in 1937 in which Jewish congregations from all over the United States participated. Dr. Linfield compiled results from these 1937 censuses for the Jewish Year Book, Volume 42 (1941). This report shows that Iowa had 14,089 Jews in Iowa, 17 principal communities, 26 congregations, and .56% of the Jews in the United States.
Along with this 1937 Iowa Jewish Census book, are letters. The first letter is dated February 11, 1937. It is from Dr. Harry S. Linfield to Rabbi Eugene Mannheimer in Des Moines. Dr. Linfield states “… it is necessary to report to the government the number of Jews that reside in each community, and thus since 1906, each of these censuses has served as an occasion for a decennial survey of the Jews of the country.” Dr. Linfield requested Rabbi Mannheimer’s cooperation in securing accurate data of our Jewish community to be included in their report to the government.
The second letter is dated April 22, 1937, and is an unsigned copy of a letter addressed to Dr. Linfield from Rabbi Mannheimer Rabbi Mannheimer informed Dr. Linfield that “It just happens that we made a rather careful census of our Jewish community during this past winter, in connection with which we undertook to ascertain the exact number of Jews in Des Moines, their occupations, their congregational and other Jewish organizations and affiliations, etc. etc.” “… we shall be glad to supply you with the desired information.”
The third letter, dated April 23, 1937 and addressed to Dr. H.S. Linfield, is from “Superintendent” Mrs. Sam Weinstock, Federated Jewish Charities. She forwarded a copy of the findings from the Jewish census that had been completed in January of 1937. The Federated Jewish Charities census collected information on every person in Des Moines over 18 years of age. She gave Dr. Linfield a detailed description of how they proceeded with the census collection: “… we had a membership list of every Jewish organization in Des Moines. We used the city directory and telephone book and made a house-to-house where we were unable to secure the information by telephone or were not listed in the directory. To be sure we had the new-comers, we contacted all mercantile houses for the Jewish people connected with them.”
Along with this third letter are the survey findings that Superintendent Weinstock sent to Dr. Linfield. “The study was prompted by the desire to secure intelligent information about the Jewish population with regard to their interests in Jewish religious culture as well as social activities and their affiliations.”
Along with the general family information (birthplace, age, children, home and business addresses, etc.), the census book listed area congregations – Bethel Jacob, Children of Israel, Tifereth Israel, and the Temple, six religious Schools, 11 men’s organizations, and 18 women’s organizations. Interviewees would indicate their affiliations with a checkmark.
This is my favorite artifact because it freezes a time in history that we can look back and see information on the families that were in the Des Moines area at that time and because this is an original, the actual book that the information was recorded in. Not a photocopy, a picture, a microfilm. This Jewish census book, along with the letters between Dr. Linfield, Rabbi Mannheimer, and Superintendent Weinstock, how amazing and wonderful to have all of these original works. I have tried locating original 1937 census books or information from other states and communities but have not found anything. This is the only book I’ve found from the 1937 Jewish census.