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Jews first came to Chicago from Prussia, Austria, Bohemia and sections of modern-day Poland, fleeing oppression to settle in the Chicago area as early as 1832.
The expansion of the Jewish community was slow but steady. In 1871, the Great Fire destroyed many residences near the downtown business district, forcing thousands of people to relocate. The more prosperous German Jews, who made up the majority, moved south along Michigan, Wabash and Indiana avenues, eventually settling in Washington Park, Kenwood, Hyde Park and South Shore; the Eastern European Jews moved west of the central business district in the vicinity of Maxwell Street. Between 1880 and 1900, a new wave of 55,000 Russian and Polish Jews crowded into the Maxwell Street market neighborhood. Yiddish was the language of choice.
At the turn of the century, dozens of Hebrew schools and Yiddish theaters were organized, and 40 Orthodox shuls were built within walking distance of Halsted and Maxwell streets. As successive waves of Jewish immigrants became settled and successful, the Jewish community began expanding. In addition to continued growth on the South Side, neighborhoods such as Lawndale and Douglas Park on the West Side and Albany Park, Humboldt Park, Lake View, Uptown and Edgewater on the North Side became vibrant Jewish communities. Many Chicago Jews today trace their roots in this city to one or more of these areas.
There are currently a little less than 300,000 Jews living in the Chicago metropolitan area. With more than 110 synagogues, seven Jewish Community Centers and a myriad of services and agencies, Chicago is an established and thriving Jewish community.
About one-third of the area's Jews live in the city of Chicago, with the largest concentration in West Rogers Park and smaller pockets on the South Side. Two-thirds of the area's Jews live in the suburbs, especially on the North Shore from Evanston to Highland Park, and to the northwest from Skokie to Buffalo Grove. There are also significant numbers of Jews in the South Suburbs and to the west in DuPage County.