The annual Jewish holiday of Passover began this past weekend and will be observed by Jews worldwide until this Saturday. Passover marks the freedom of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and their biblical Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. To mark this religious holiday, PNAE takes a look at the history of Jewish immigration to America and one of the many entrepreneurial successes that resulted.
In 2013, Jews constituted 2.2 percent of the total U.S. population, totaling approximately 5.3 million, according to a Pew study. The first Jews arrived to America by boat from the former Dutch colony, Recife, Brazil in 1654 and settled in New Amsterdam, later to be renamed New York. The first wave of Jewish immigration was concentrated to the Northeast region, where Jewish immigrants organized communities around synagogues in cities like New York, Newport, and Philadelphia. American Jews played a role in the American Revolution and were awarded equal rights and protections across all states under the Constitution. The period between the nineteenth century and post-World War II witnessed a large influx of Jewish immigrants to America, mostly from Eastern European nations. In 1906 alone, approximately 153,748 Jewish immigrants arrived to the United States.
In particular, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe were more likely to be skilled and have exposure to urban living compared to other immigrant groups. In an effort to assimilate both culturally and economically, many Eastern European Jewish immigrants launched their own entrepreneurial ventures. One such story is of the famous Manischewitz, a giant in the kosher food products and wine market.
In 1888, Rabbi Dov Behr Abramson, a Russian immigrant who bought the passport of a dead man named Manischewitz to gain entry to the United States, founded what would later become the Manischewitz Company. The rabbi discovered that Jews in his Cincinnati, Ohio neighborhood were struggling to find matzos for Passover, which prompted him to start producing them in his own basement and later open a small bakery. This original operation grew over the years to serve Jewish communities across the nation, and the Manischewitz Company now serves customers worldwide. The primary driver of this growth in kosher foods was through the mechanization of the production process which was initially contested to be non-kosher in nature. However, Abramson hired a board of rabbis to testify that the newly established processes and final products were, in fact, 100 percent kosher.
Over the years, the publicly listed company has diversified its products immensely, ranging from kosher crackers to canned goods. However, one of its most successful endeavors has been its line of wines, which was launched in 1947. The kosher wine is produced by Monarch Wine Co. under the Manischewitz brand and has gained national publicity due to its catchy tag line “Man-oh-Manischewitz.” The company that was once led by the rabbi’s five sons, has been sold a number of times in the last three decades. However, even today it is the most popular American brand for kosher foods and is the world’s largest matzo manufacturer.
The Manischewitz brand is just one example of an immigrant entrepreneur success story. Historically, immigrants have been huge drivers of economic growth through the founding of small businesses and other entrepreneurial ventures. In fact, more than 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. During this week of Passover, we call to mind the economic achievements of Jewish immigrants and others who have come to America to build better lives and create new futures.