A large number of Jewish immigrants from Europe began to move to the United States to escape prejudices and persecution in their homelands in the early 1900’s. First settling in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, they soon migrated north to Harlem and Washington Heights in order to live in nicer apartments, and attend university at the City College of New York. During the 1930’s, nearly 20,000 German and Austrian Jews immigrated to Washington Heights to escape the Nazi regime before the declaration of World War II. Jews in Germany, Austria, Russia, Poland, and many other countries faced financial and social hardships in their homelands due to their inability to find well-paid employment, regardless of their skill level. In the years leading up to the war, a very strong anti-Semitic sentiment was on the rise, and Jews were often the targets of violence and discrimination. As Hitler gained more power, all of these problems intensified and became stronger motivation for Jews to immigrate to the U.S.
When they first arrived in New York City, although many Jews were skilled professionals and trained doctors and scientists, they were forced to work in manual labor and factory jobs because many were not able to speak English. The most common employment for Jewish immigrants was in the garment industry. They had the skills prior to arriving in the United States, so it was a job that they could begin immediately, and thus, start to save money and provide for their families.
Unlike in Europe, Jews were generally accepted and welcomed in Washington Heights, and they were soon able to create new businesses and establish synagogues and a religious community. A number of Jewish schools were founded to provide children with a firm education and knowledge of Judaism. One of the top educational institutions in the nation, Yeshiva University, was founded in 1928.
Although there was an initial intense growth in the Jewish community, it began to decline as the children grew up and moved out to suburbs or other parts of New York City. Many synagogues were forced to close due to this decline in the Jewish population, but in recent years there has been a resurgence again. This is mainly a result of the present economic climate; many families cannot afford to pay rent in the lower areas of Manhattan, so are moving further north into Washington Heights and Inwood, a nd bringing with them that sense of community and togetherness that has been missing in recent years.