Today, people are drawn to the Chicago area because of its economic strength; its career and social opportunities; its beautiful lakefront; its architecture; its diversity; its theatre, art and other culture; its friendly populace; its commuter rails and public transportation; its many festivals; its colleges and universities; and more.
When Jews, mainly from Western Europe, began settling in Chicago some 160 years ago, they came to escape from civil and political restrictions that dictated where they could live and whom they could marry. While some Western European Jews left for political reasons, most came because they lived in areas rife with animosity and antisemitism, and the fact that they could neither work nor marry. The early arrivals were largely young, single men who settled in today's Loop, later moving several blocks to the south. Eastern European Jews, who lived under Czarist oppression and the threat of pogroms, came to the area in large numbers starting in the late 1800s and mainly moved into Chicago's near west side. Later waves of immigrants settled in evolving neighborhoods throughout the city and then into the suburbs. As the Jewish population dispersed throughout the region, the community organizations and religious institutions that serve them have likewise followed the flow. Today it is possible to live a fulfilling Jewish life wherever you live in the Chicago area.
There are approximately 260,000 Jews living in the metropolitan Chicago area, with more than two-thirds residing in suburban communities. A full analysis of the Jewish community demographics, based on the Jewish Federation's recent population study, will be available in the coming months.
It has been said that the 12 tribes of Israel each had a special place where they encamped in the desert around the Tabernacle. Of course, Jews live in practically every corner of the greater Chicago area; however, we have identified 12 neighborhoods or regions where Jewish life, nurtured by a caring communal structure, flourishes. Each of these sections will be profiled randomly throughout the Guide in order to pinpoint their focus on Jewish living.
If you are seeking general information on demographics or important data about housing, commuting, public schools, day care, career or business opportunities, you will find that most communities have websites and/or chambers of commerce that will prove helpful. Also, motor clubs and online travel-map websites can augment your search.
If you are new to the area or are planning to move here, you are encouraged to contact JUF's Shalom Chicago program to learn more about becoming involved in the Jewish community. Call 312-357-4851 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.