The city’s first congregation, Kehilath Anshe Mayriv (KAM, and known today as KAM Isaiah Israel) established in 1847, was a founding member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the URJ), and four of its rabbis have served as president of the Reform Movement’s rabbinical arm, the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
By 1930, the Chicago’s Jewish population of 275,000 was surpassed in number only by New York City and Warsaw, Poland. Among the many illustrious Jews with a strong Chicago connection were Sears, Roebuck executive and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, world champion boxer Barney Ross, “King of Swing” band leader Benny Goodman, Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, advice columnist Esther Lederer a.k.a. Ann Landers, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel, and Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow.
No author has portrayed Jewish life in Chicago during the two decades before WWII better than has its native son, journalist-turned-novelist Meyer Levin (1905-1981). His autobiographical narrative, The Old Bunch (1937), follows the lives of 19 young Chicago Jews – 11 boys and eight girls – beginning with their high school graduations in 1921 and concluding with the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934.