Way Back When ... 1718
Andris Trubee, Fairfield’s first Jewish resident, moved to town around three hundred years ago, in 1718. Trubee was a Sephardic Jew - a descendant of Spanish Jews who had been expelled from Spain in 1492 and found a home in Holland. He had emigrated from Holland to Boston a few years earlier. He was a merchant who was well-educated and spoke several languages, and had been experienced in dealing with international trade in Amsterdam. In Fairfield, he opened a furniture shop on the north side of what is now Old Post Road.
As the only Jewish person in town, Trubee’s options were limited. Supporters of the Anglican Church (a distinct religious minority in Fairfield) sought Trubee out, seeing him as a learned man who would be an asset to the church. He converted and became a member of the church which was then located in Mill Hill. He gave some of his eight children names that honored his own heritage: Esther, Gitta, Samuel Cohen, and Ansel.
Few Jews settled in Connecticut in the colonial era; they were not allowed to worship publicly in the state until 1843, when the legislature granted Jews the same right to form religious societies as Christians had. Jewish immigrants from Germany were settling in Connecticut’s cities during this time. Jewish immigrants in Bridgeport founded the B’nai Israel congregation in 1859.
It would be almost another century before Fairfield had its own Jewish community. Jewish families living in Fairfield before the 1950s tended to be isolated and remained a tiny part of the population, although some families operated successful businesses like the Fairfield Store and Fairfield Center Jewelers. Jewish residents were often explicitly excluded from purchasing property in certain areas or joining clubs.
After World War II, enough Jewish families from Bridgeport were moving into new neighborhoods in Fairfield to create a synagogue, Congregation Beth El, on Fairfield Woods Road. The founding members purchased a farmhouse in 1953 which served as the group’s first place of worship, followed by their own building in 1963. An Orthodox synagogue founded by Hungarian Jews, Ahavath Achim, also moved to Fairfield in 1957. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Fairfield-Bridgeport border along Park Avenue became a focal point of Jewish life in the area, hosting the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Federation of Greater Bridgeport, and the Jewish Home for the Elderly.
On Wednesday, Oct. 17, the History Bites program will focus on documenting the history of the Bridgeport region’s Jewish community. Speakers from the Jewish Historical Society of Fairfield County and the Fairfield Museum will outline the development of the Jewish community here, and the public are invited to bring documents or artifacts to share that would help us learn more.