Fargo Hebrew Congregation

Fargo Hebrew Congregation photo

Photo of Fargo Hebrew Congregation’s synagogue from page 68 of Images of America Fargo North Dakota 1870-1940 by David B. Danbom and Claire Strom.

Lesk family photo

Rabbi David Lesk and his wife, Chaye Lesk, with their son Ben.

While there is little information on the Fargo Hebrew Congregation, it was the first Orthodox Jewish temple in Fargo. On July 6, 1886 William Giles, Abraham Rubel, and David Mezirow incorporated the temple, however it did not open its doors until 1906 and it took two years to complete the building.  The synagogue was built across from Island Park on First Street. Until it opened, the congregation held services in their homes.  The rabbi was David Lesk, who also provided services to smaller settlements in the area.  One possible reason for the lack of information regarding this original temple is the fact that later in its history there was a split within the congregation between those that were Orthodox and Reformists, as well as the fact that the temple is no longer in use.[1][2]

 

Heather Brinkman, Digital History 2012


[1] Caron, John. “Fargo, N.D., History Exhibition, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU.” Fargo, N.D., History             Exhibition, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU. North Dakota State University, 2004. Web. 30          Oct. 2012. <http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/churches/fargo-hebrew-cong.htm>.

 

[2] Bizapedia.com. “FARGO HEBREW CONGREGATION OF THE CITY OF FARGO IN THE STATE OF NORTH                 DAKOTA.” Bizapedia.com. N.p., 2012. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.              <http://www.bizapedia.com/nd/FARGO-HEBREW-CONGREGATION-OF-THE-CITY-OF-FARGO-IN-   THE-STATE-OF-NORTH-DAKOTA.html>.

 

The Biography of Alexander Stern

Alexander Stern

(June 7, 1857-1934)

Edwards Building photo

The Edward Building was the site of the Alex Stern & Company’s clothing store.

Alex Stern was born on June 7, 1857 in Giessen, Germany.  He immigrated to the United states in 1871.  Mr. Stern arrived in Fargo in 1882 and opened the city’s first clothing store.  He is the first know Jewish person to land in Fargo.  On July 5, 1885 he married Bertha.  They had three sons: William, Samuel, and Edward.

Mr. Stern was a very influential man during the founding of Fargo, both through the business world as well as politically.  He was influential in the opening of Alex Stern & Company in 1885. [1] He purchased Chapin Hall, the local opera house, in 1888,[2]  was the Vice President of the Fargo Packing Company, President of Fargo Plumbing, Director of Merchant’s State Bank, President of Fargo City Council, was on the Board of Directors for the Agriculture College and was the trustee of said college for four years.[3]

Here is a copy of his letter from the secretary of the State giving him the position of trustee of the Agriculture College.

Here is his letter asking for endorsement for President of the City Commission. He was the mayor of Fargo from 1917-1921.

For more information on Alex Stern’s life please go here.

Heather Brinkman, Digital History 2012


[1] Caron, John. “Fargo, N.D., History Exhibition, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU.” Fargo, N.D., History         Exhibition, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU. North Dakota State University, 2004. Web. 30    Oct.         2012. <http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/people/stern.htm>.

 

[2]  Caron, John. “Fargo, N.D., (First) Opera House” Fargo, N.D., History       Exhibition, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU. North Dakota State University, 2004. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.  http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/theaters/first-opera-house.htm

 

[3] Caron, John. “Fargo, N.D., History Exhibition, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU.” Fargo, N.D., History         Exhibition, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU. North Dakota State University, 2004. Web. 30    Oct.         2012. <http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/people/stern.htm>.

 

 

Lena Bertha Kopelman

Lena Bertha Kopelman

April 29, 1869 – December 3, 1947

 

Lena Bertha Kopelman photo

“My mother… [was] a wig maker and maker of hair switches and other hair goods. [She] taught us all how to weave human hair and we became 


fairly adept at it, but we could never make our fingers fly like our mother did… Kopelman’s Beauty Shop was one of the very first beauty shops in Fargo…

Rose, Dorothy and I helped to make the shop a going business, all of us merely helping our mother who was quite a business woman.”

~ Jeanette Kopelman Saval, letter, 1977. [1]

            Mrs. Kopelman was the owner of Fargo’s first beauty salon.  She was a wig maker, widow, and mother of seven children.  One December 22, 1901 she became the president of Sister’s of Peace, which is a Jewish charity organization.[2]  As a devoted member of the Jewish community, she also had a business agreement with the Fargo Hebrew Congregation to run the mikvah in the basement of her store.  (A mikhav is a bath meant to purify women within the Jewish faith before a Sabbath or after menstruation.[3])  She would charge $1 and provide towels, water, and soap. (See agreement between Mrs. Kopelman and The Fargo Hebrew Congregation)[4]

Heather Brinkman, Digital History 2012

[1] Schloff, Linda Mack. And Prairie Dogs Weren’t Kosher: Jewish Women in the Upper Midwest since 1855.  St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1996. Print.

[2] “American Jewish Year Book.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=0LUyAAAAMAAJ>.

[3] Farlex, Inc. “Mikvah.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, 2012. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/mikvah>.

[4] Schloff, Linda Mack. And Prairie Dogs Weren’t Kosher: Jewish Women in the Upper Midwest since 1855.       St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1996. Print.

Kopelman Building photo

This is the outside of the Kopelman building. This building housed many different offices as well as the beauty salon run by Mrs. Lena Kopelman.

 

Inside of the Kopelman Store photo

This is a photo of the inside of the Kopelman store.

Fargo’s Hebrew Ladies Aid Society

The Hebrew Ladies Aid Society was founded on August 13, 1904.[1]  It was created in order to help the people of the Jewish community and fulfill the responsibility to the Jewish community.  They helped the community by financing the community businesses, educate the children, and perform other acts of civil service.  Below is Linda Mack Schloff’s recount of their purpose.

Rochele Gela Mann recalled the efforts of the Fargo, North Dakota, Hebrew Ladies Aid Society – what she called the Jewish Women’s Aid Society – at the turn of the century.

‘A Jewish Women’s Aid Society was formed.  They met in each others’ homes.  Their aims were to assist Jews who were in need of financial assistance or loans for a horse, money to buy goods to peddle, to start a new business ect.  This was all done with no interest charged.

A converted Jewess from Sweden was the secretary of the society.  Mrs. Ackerman brought [to] the attention [of] the society that they were in need of a Sunday School for Jewish education of the children.  A teacher was hired.  Being in need of a place to learn, this caused a collection of monies and a synagogue was built.  Then a library was needed so the society gave two Sholom Aleichem plays.  After the first play was given in a local theatre, the gentile community loved it and asked that they repeat a second play.  Bibles and books were then purchased.  Mother[,] who was 4 months pregnant with me, was teased as she acted out her role in the plays’. (Linda Mack Schloff, 1996)[2]

Heather Brinkman, Digital History 2012


[1] “American Jewish Year Book.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.        <http://books.google.com/books?id=0LUyAAAAMAAJ>.

[2] Schloff, Linda Mack. And Prairie Dogs Weren’t Kosher: Jewish Women in the Upper Midwest since 1855.  St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1996. Print.

Jewish Immigrants to Fargo North Dakota

immigrants photo

The first Jewish immigrants into Fargo were part of the middle and upper classes of Germany.  They were formally educated.  The main reason for immigrating to the United States was to escape persecution and violent attacks that their homelands ignored and in some cases encouraged.  After the town started to solidify, many unsuccessful farmers from North Dakota and Minnesota sought refuge in Fargo.  In addition to these farmers there were lesser educated Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe that settled in Fargo.  The drastic class difference  within the Jewish population made it difficult to establish a congregation.  The original population of Jewish people in Fargo was substantial in both numbers and contributions to the city of Fargo.

The area that was set up as a “Jewish immigrant” neighborhood was near the Red River.  This area was where the kosher butcher shop as well as other shops that catered to the Jewish population set up.  There were also Hebrew schools and meeting halls to make life more comfortable for the Jewish population.[1]

Heather Brinkman, Digital History 2012


[1] Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest. “Unpacking on the Prairie: The Journey.”Unpacking on the Prairie: The Journey. N.p., 2010. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.         <http://www.jhsum.org/jewishwomenexhibit/journey3.html>.

 

Jewish Women

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]

     “Jewish women played important religious roles in the home. There they were responsible for upholding all religious laws that involved keeping kosher.  They helped their Jewish neighbors through tzedakah (righteous acts), such as providing a Sabbath dinner for a poor family and working in benevolent societies called khevres.”

[/quote]

~ Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest

The domestic sphere was the responsibility of the women within the Jewish community, and this included child rearing and keeping a kosher home.  Women had to make sure that the food they were buying did not contain food that was treyf, or unfit to eat.  This meant making sure that all meat was butchered according to the church’s regulations and was kosher.  They also had to read labels on the food that they purchased to make sure that it did not contain any foods that were tabooed by the church.  The women were required to have two separate sets of dishware, one for fleishig, or meat, and one for milchig, or dairy.  These dishes normally sat if different locations within the cabinets and had different patterns.

“My parents got tired of eating potatoes, and prairie dogs weren’t kosher.”

   ~Isadore Pitts, oral history, 1974. Courtesy of the South Dakota Oral History Project, University of South Dakota.

While women in the Jewish community were responsible for the domestic sphere, they also had responsibilities to the community through work within the synagogue, charities, and work outside of the home.  There is a Jewish law that states that women cannot be managed by a man other than her husband so working outside of the home was limited.  The first women to immigrate to the Fargo area typically either were seamstresses or went into business alongside their husbands.  However, some women took in boarders and/or helped their husband with farming responsibilities.  Second generation women tended to be more educated and took jobs as social workers, teachers, and bookkeepers.

– Heather Brinkman, Digital History, 2012