Jews in New Orleans served as founders many of the city’s major institutions –Touro, Woldenberg, Delgado, Newman, Godchaux, Besthoff, Hurwitz-Mintz — but because of discrimination, their contributions were long ignored. A Jew even served as the first Rex in 1872. No other Jew has served as Rex since, and Jews were prohibited from joining the krewes for decades. Lewis Salomon, the first Rex, is also emblematic of many early Jews in the city. According to research by Errol Laborde, Salomon became Catholic a decade before his reign, assimilating into New Orleans’ life.
A small group of Jews, largely traders from Spain or Portugal, lived in the city around the time it was founded. They stayed even though the Code Noir prohibited Jews from living in the city. They were kicked out in 1769, though they eventually returned.
The first Jewish immigrants to New Orleans came from Western Europe. A later group of Orthodox Jews arrived from Eastern Europe and settled in Central City, along Dryades Street.
While the Jewish people in the city were represented in almost every facet of life, they were excluded from the debutante balls, clubs and krewes that were the center of social life in the city.
In 1991, a city ordinance forced krewes to open up their rolls to all people. Some lingering prejudice prompted a group to create their own Jewish Mardi Gras krewe – Krewe du Jieux, a farcical group that mocks its own culture, modeled after the Zulu parade.
According to the 2011 Census, there are about 12,000 Jews living in New Orleans.
“The discrimination against Jews by Carnival krewes and businessmen’s clubs is specific and total, and people even seem to take a certain pride in how specific and total it is,” wrote Calvin Trillin in a 1968 story for the New Yorker about the city’s discrimination against Jews that caused a stir in the city.