NEW BEDFORD, a city in southeastern Massachusetts; estimated total population of 95,000, in 2005, Jewish population of greater New Bedford (including Dartmouth and Fairhaven) numbers approximately 3,000. Because of its proximity to Newport, the port of New Bedford in colonial days was of importance to two Jewish-Portuguese merchants, Aaron Lopez and Jacob Rodrigues Rivera, who settled in Newport. They came to New Bedford to learn the art of candlemaking at the Rodman Candleworks which was important in the whaling industry at the time. In the middle of the 19th century, a group of German Jews settled in the city and were later joined by new arrivals. The B'nai Israel Society, established in 1857, purchased a cemetery plot for these German-Jewish immigrants in the Peckham West Cemetery in the city.
The New Bedford Directory for 1869 contains Jewish names such as Adolphus Levi; Leon Levy, dry goods and variety store; Louis Henry, cigar maker; and Julius Simon, dry goods, fancy and retail. After 1877, Eastern European Jews went to New Bedford in large numbers. Ahavath Achim Synagogue began in 1893 with the purchase of a plot of land upon which the synagogue was built and incorporated in 1899 in the South End on Howland Street, and in the 1940s moved west to County Street. In 2005 the rabbi was Barry Hartman. Congregation Chesed Shel Emes was incorporated in 1898, and a synagogue was built in 1904 on Kenyon Street in the north end of the city. This synagogue was destroyed in the late 1950s to make room for the highway through the city. The Conservative Congregation Tifereth Israel Synagogue was dedicated in 1924, and its rabbi in 2005 was Raphael Kanter. Other Jewish organizations and branches of fraternal orders also existed. A communal Talmud Torah existed until 1935. The establishment of various industrial enterprises in the 1930s, and the establishment of the JCC (Jewish Community Center) from 1947 to 1972 added to the Jewish activity in the city. Since 1973, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Bedford has absorbed the programs of the JCC and continues to provide for the activities of the Jewish community through Jewish social service programs, under the leadership of executive director, Wil Herrup, and a board of directors.