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Jewish West Virginia

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Jewish West Virginia

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Jewish West Virginia
Images of America Series
By Julian H. Preisler
Arcadia Publishing, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-7385-8606-9

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - July 18, 2012

There has been a strong Jewish presence in West Virginia for far longer than West Virginia has been a state! Although the first 'official' Jewish organization was not formed until 1849, Jews have called what is today present day West Virginia home since at least the early 1840's when the first major wave of Jewish immigrants entered the area. The majority of these early immigrants to the state originally came from Germany, while later waves, especially those in the 1880's, were noted for most of the new immigrants having originated in Russia.

In Jewish West Virginia, Julian H. Preisler, a resident of West Virginia, provides a pictorial history of Jewish life in West Virginia. Most of the two-hundred or so images in this book date from the later part of the twentieth century, although several date as far back as the early 1900's. Each image includes explanatory information about what the picture is of, along with historical details that put the image into the context of West Virginia's Jewish history.

The images in this remarkable book are organized primarily by the city or area in which the images were taken. They cover Beckley & the Bluefield-Princeton area, Charleston, Huntington, Martinsburg and the Eastern Panhandle, Clarksburg & Morgantown, Parkersburg, and Wheeling & the Northern Panhandle. Don't let the predominance of large town names fool you. While the large Jewish communities were, and still are, located in the large cities, Jews were, and still are, located throughout the state. Up through the late 1970's when logging and the coal industry began to encounter major set backs, Jews were to be found in almost every city in West Virginia - even some of the smallest. Sometimes this 'presence' was only that of a single family running a store, or a lone man struggling to earn some money so that he could bring his family out to join him. Over the years, many towns in West Virginia have withered and disappeared as economic opportunities dried up. It is the gravestones, in long abandoned graveyards that perhaps, more than anything else, testifies to the fact that Jews settled throughout the state and had an impact on all aspects of West Virginia history.

Jewish West Virginia is a wonderful addition to a very small body of works that chronicle the Jewish experience in West Virginia. The book begins with a brief introductory essay that explores the history of Jews in West Virginia, both past and present. As well, each chapter begins with a short description of Jewish history of the various cities and regions mentioned. This work is ideal for historians, genealogists, or anyone interested in the history of Jewish West Virginia because it provides an eclectic assortment of images of pictures of synagogue, family groups, communal events, important personages in the Jewish community, and even of some advertisements for Jewish owned businesses. This book is also ideal for those who grew up or lived in West Virginia and would enjoy a second look at some of the places, and maybe some of the people, that you were familiar with.

Jewish West Virginia is part of the Images of America series published by Arcadia Publishing. This series provides snapshots of communities, both large and small, from throughout the United States that capture the images and history of these communities during distinct periods of time, or which chronicle momentous events or unique aspects of a community's cultural heritage.

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