The Hyde Park, Kenwood and South Shore neighborhoods were in the 1930s and 1940s home to the most affluent Jewish community in Chicago. Today, though smaller in numbers, the Hyde Park-Kenwood Jewish community remains active and committed, thanks to the presence of historic congregations (including Chicago's oldest), a vibrant Jewish day school, JCC and Hillel chapter, and proximity to a world-class university.
In the aftermath of devastating Chicago fires in 1871 and l874, the Jewish community began gradual moves south from the Loop.
In the early 1880s, leading Jewish businessmen helped avert a financial crisis that threatened the future of the University of Chicago. Their support continued over the following years. Fittingly, as the exodus from the area threatened the viability of the Jewish community, the university stepped in and helped to stabilize the area. And the intellectual aura of a major university is now a factor attracting new residents to Hyde Park.
After years of soul searching and needs assessment, Rodfei Zedek congregants decided to take the unusual step of tearing down its existing building and rebuilding at the same location. This also involved a unique partnership with the Hyde Park Jewish Community Center, which now shares the new Jewish community campus, dedicated in September, 2000
Established more than 50 years ago, the Hyde Park JCC offers programs and classes for all ages, ranging from enrichment classes for infants, toddlers and preschool children to an active Children's Department, to a popular summer camping program and its Adult Department activities, which includes many classes and programs for seniors.
The University of Chicago has always attracted a high percentage of Jewish students and faculty. Among its Nobel Prize winners are author Saul Bellow and economist Milton Friedman. The Johanna and Herman Newberger Hillel Center at the University of Chicago involves large numbers of Jewish students, faculty and staff in the course of a school year, in a variety of activities. One event that has enjoyed great success for more than half-a-century is the annual Latke-Hamentash Symposium, a tongue-in-cheek debate featuring noted scholars arguing the merits of the holiday goodies.
Residents extol the virtues of the area, citing Hyde Park as a pretty neighborhood with nice beaches and parks, and ready proximity to the Loop. They see the diverse neighborhood as a good place to raise children, with pluses like access to music teachers, art centers, the Museum of Science and Industry, the well known Lab School, and the University of Chicago with its cultural offerings.