Historic sites continue legacy of Jewish pioneers

Coming off the wonderful new comfortable seats in Temple Shalom’s main sanctuary after a day of Yom Kippur worship service with two great rabbis, cantor and choir, I thought of just how blessed we Dallas Jews are in so many ways.
And not just at Shalom, but the other welcoming synagogues we have available to us in the Dallas area.
But it wasn’t always this way. Let’s not forget those Jews who first came west, the true pioneers. They are part of our heritage.
Two events, one in Eastern Europe, pogroms and persecution, where Jews worked the land that they could never own, and the second, beginning in 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law, promising free land to those willing to work for it.
Thousands of Eastern European Jews joined America’s westward movement, especially after the Civil War had ended.
Under the Homestead Act, they had five years to clear and cultivate 160 acres to establish a homestead, earning it free and clear.
The Native Americans who had originally been given these lands by treaty were never consulted.
While the original structures built by these Jewish pioneers on the prairie have long disappeared, there are some historic sites worth a Jewish heritage visit.
Here are just a few.
In Boise, Idaho, stands the oldest shul west of the Mississippi that is still in use. Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue that started with 25 families in 1896, now has 200 members in the state’s largest city.
A Jewish cemetery near Ashley, North Dakota, is the final resting place for Russian and Romanian Jews who struggled on their farms, yearning to own their land.
The Ashley Cemetery, created in 1913, is the only evidence of what was once the largest settlement of Jewish farmers in Montana, North Dakota or South Dakota.
The cemetery is perpetually cared for by both descendants of those buried and citizens of nearby Ashley hired to help maintain the burial grounds.
Finally, I recommend you visit The Sons of Jacob Cemetery first established in 1883 by the Garske Colony in North Dakota.
You can easily “visit” by computer by Googling Sons of Jacob Cemetery near Devils Lake, North Dakota.
This website is full of interesting stories recalled by descendants.
In all the stories told, reflecting the experiences of those Jewish pioneers, what comes through more than anything else is that despite all the hardships and disappointments these Jewish pioneers on the prairie experienced, their steadfast belief in their Jewish faith gave them the confidence they needed to persevere.
We should never forget those who came before us.

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