Author Archives: Joy Breslauer
I was born three months premature in the early 1950’s and weighed a pound and twelve ounces. I wasn’t expected to live, and it was considered a miracle that I did. I was put in an incubator for 76 days in an environment of pure oxygen to save my life. Doctors were just beginning to find out that too much oxygen could damage eyesight. That is why I am blind. Family legend has it that when my dad saw the hospital bills, he said, “Oh, Joy!” Hence, my name.
Family legend also has it that I was very verbal at a young age, and my dad used to tell me that I talked like a fish. My family and I were in church one Sunday morning, and I knew it was getting near the end of the service when the pastor said, “Let us pray.” My two-year-old voice rang out in the quiet of the church: “You talk like a fish.” My dad was laughing so hard he had to leave.
One day in the lunch line at Great Falls High, my best friend asked me if I was a Christian. “Of course I am, isn’t everybody?” I naively replied. That was when I began to realize that no, not everybody was a Christian. I wondered why there are so many belief systems out there from which to choose, what distinguishes one from another, and what would motivate a person to choose one over the other without belonging to the flavor of the month club.
As I attended college and became an adult, I began to ask questions. The leaders in the church I attended told me that I asked too many questions, and that I should always remember that God is God and I am not, that His ways and thoughts are higher than mine, and I shouldn’t question them because I probably wouldn’t understand the answers anyway, and He is under no obligation to explain himself to me, a mere mortal, in a way that my finite mind could understand. Being a child of the sixties, this didn’t make much sense to me, so I embarked on a spiritual quest which included the study of comparative religion. I eventually made my way back to Christianity, but in the process I learned about many other religions and ways of thinking and living out one’s faith. Among the things I learned was that one can be born Jewish, but one cannot be born Christian.
I also learned that intelligent people can be tripped up by charismatic leaders with tragic results. Jonestown was a case in point. Jonestown hit me especially hard, and motivated me to study the Scriptures more intently and purposefully, thinking that the more familiar I became with real money, the easier I would be able to spot the counterfeit.
Several years later I was given the surprise gift of a Braille Bible by the church I was then attending. I dove into it with all fours and didn’t come up for air for almost a year, during which I read and reread the whole thing from cover to cover many times, something I still enjoy. But I digress.
After college, I got a job in my home town, got my own place, and started living my own life. I thought I had the world by the tail. Not very many blind people I knew were working at all, let alone full time, starting out at $2.17 an hour when the minimum wage was $1.65. I eventually worked my way up to over $11.00 an hour. Not bad for a woman in Great Falls, Montana, at the time, and virtually unheard of for a woman with a disability. I loved my job, and I worked to live. I laughed all the way to the bank.
I eventually married someone I had known since kindergarten, who was also blind. (It took him seventeen years to convince me.) Within two years we bought our first house together and got our first dog from the pound a week later. We had two children, a girl and a boy, within the next five years. We moved our happy little family to Billings with our jobs, but our marriage fell apart shortly thereafter. He said later that the grass on the other side of the fence may have looked greener, but it still had to be mowed. I became a single working mom for about ten years. I eventually moved back to Great Falls at the end of 1998 with a new husband and two grown kids. Well, one was grown and married, and one was a teenager living with us who was almost grown. as anyone who has ever raised a teenager knows, the mid to late teen years are some of the most difficult for kids and parents alike. It tested us all, but we all survived relatively unscathed, although some of that took decades to come to fruition. God has thankfully restored the years the locusts have eaten.
And then there is the matter of this new husband. He is also blind. He and I met at a mutual friend’s house at a pre-Thanksgiving dinner. He had just received a new guide dog, Sanders, with whom I formed an immediate bond. I didn’t have a guide dog at the time, and had never met one up close and personal. I didn’t pay much attention to the dog owner. All I knew about him was that he was a professor, he had lived in a big house on a hill with his first wife, from whom he was now divorced, he had no kids, and he was Jewish.
I had never had a male friend who was not a boyfriend, and I had never been able to stay friends with an ex-boyfriend or ex-husband, so I was pleasantly surprised that we became friends, and not just friends, but really good friends, without being friends with benefits or having any other ulterior motives. On our first real date, we went out to dinner and to a symphony concert. We discussed over dinner the fact that each of our previous marriages had ended in divorce, and that if we were ever to be blessed with a second chance, what we would want in a new relationship, never dreaming for a moment that we each were talking to our future spouse. We talked about the fact that neither one of us could abide shallow meaningless relationships. We talked about religion and a lot of other things. I began to appreciate his intelligence, his wry but often hidden sense of humor, the way he treated a lady like a lady, and the fact that he seemed to really listen to what I had to say and value my opinions, and to genuinely care about what I thought and how I felt. One of my quests in life became how to make him laugh. Although I thought he had so much going for him, there were two problems: He was blind and he was Jewish. I had already been a leading lady in that blind-husband-failed-marriage movie, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that again. I eventually had to sit myself down and say self, how would you like it if someone rejected you for that very same reason and no other? How fair would that be? I decided that it wouldn’t be very fair at all, so I let that part go and enjoyed his company and let the chips fall where they may.
Then there was the Jewish part. By this time our relationship was taking off like a rocket, which was unusual for me, since I don’t trust easily and I like to take things more slowly. I wasn’t even looking for a relationship or a marriage partner. Turns out he was. When I first went to synagogue with him, the student rabbi wondered who this girl-of-the-week was, and how long she would last. She outlasted them all. She decided to hang on for dear life and enjoy the ride. And what an enjoyable ride it has been.
When things got more serious, I learned that the student rabbi wouldn’t have married us even if she could have, because it would have meant uniting a Jew and a non-Jew in a sacred covenant with God. She said that she had seen lots of other mixed marriages, where either the battle for dominance of one religion over the other would eventually tear the husband and wife and perhaps both extended families apart, especially if children were involved, or the husband and wife would both become nonreligious. I struggled with that, too. I knew that Christians are encouraged to marry other Christians. I knew we wouldn’t have to fight over which religion we would raise our kids in, but what other unforeseen problems might we face. The student rabbi did suggest some passages and rituals to include in our blended marriage ceremony, which took place at the church I was attending at the time. Sanders was the ring bearer. the Jewish community had a special oneg just for us. A couple of brave souls from the local Jewish community attended our church wedding, which I learned later is against the law for them. Long after we were married, I heard a rabbi remark in passing that he would much rather marry a gay or lesbian couple than a Jew and a non-Jew.
Some other interesting things I have learned are that you don’t have to believe in God to be Jewish, that there is a difference between a cultural or secular Jew and a religious Jew, that there are several different sects of Jews, just as there are several different sects of Christians. Some are more liberal and some more conservative than others. Some have more modern music and some don’t have any at all, just like some Christians. Some have big debates about what Scriptural language means, or what English translation, if any, can be trusted, or the true meaning of Hebrew words, just like some Christians do. There always seem to be continuing debates in both religions concerning what is truth and what is myth, and whether you can tell the difference, or how, or whether it matters. Some will not work or play on their designated day of rest. Some include women as their religious leaders and some do not. Some abstain from certain things during certain times of the month or the year. Some have dietary restrictions. Some have differing concepts of the sacred and the profane. Some Christian denominations do not sanction drinking, dancing, or the wearing of jewelry. Some require certain kinds of dress or head coverings at services, or in their daily lives. Some Christian denominations, especially in the South, insist that women wear dresses or skirts, never pants, and that they wear long hair and even wear hats to church as a head covering. Some influence the ways men and women interact with each other. Some strive to be all-inclusive or gender-neutral, and some do not. Some have been portrayed in the media as either comics or buffoons. Some have ben the subjects of vicious or false propaganda. Some have suffered unspeakable horrors and persecution at the hands of others, not just because of their faith, but because of their race. Some Jews do not get along with each other, just as is true with some Christians. There are some Jews and Christians who don’t seem to get along with each other or anybody else, targets of other groups for reasons which may be as similar as gang or turf warfare in certain neighborhoods or toward other minority groups, or as different as the hatred, animosity, and contempt harbored in an individual’s heart. Jews struggle in the United States with such subjects as assimilation, or how or whether to remain as Jewish as they want to be, without being targeted. So do some Christians. Both Jews and Christians grapple with what they believe, and how much of it to believe or practice in order to become or remain in the faith they have chosen, or the faith into which they were born or reborn. I think each group also laments their waning influence on the society around them, and wonders how to raise up the next generation in the faith of their ancestors which their elders still hold dear. The younger generations may think that the older beliefs are now hopelessly antiquated, archaic, and out of touch, with no relevance to today’s society whatsoever, with its modern problems and ways of thinking. Both groups debate what is in the Book, how it got there, who wrote it, whether it can be trusted, what it means or should mean to us individually and collectively today, and why this particular book is different from any other book.
One of the most profound and life-changing ideas I have encountered about belonging to or relating to any group is from a book called “The Vanishing American Jew” by Alan M. Dershowitz, C.1997. Although it may seem a bit out of touch now given the recent resurgence of antisemitism in our society, one of the strongest take-aways from the book for me is not to let your enemies define you. That idea has impacted my life as a Christian, as a wife, mother, and grandmother, as a person with a disability, and as someone who cares deeply and passionately about the Jewish people in general and one Jewish person in particular.
So while each of us as individuals and groups ponders the meaning and purpose of life and where we belong as we journey together, who is in charge and makes the rules, what happens if we keep or break them, how to leave this world better than we found it, and what, if anything, happens afterwards, here we both are, over twenty years later, fellow travelers on that same road, a divided yet united household, still happy together and head over heels in love with each other and with God. We believe that the Biblical imperatives we share in this life are to love God above all else, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to treat everyone else as we would like to be treatede. We have two days of rest at our house. We read from two different translations of Scriptures. Bruce’s Scriptures have the letters OT on the cover, which he says means the Only Testament. We agree to disagree on some things, like Coke or Pepsi, but we always treat each other and each other’s religion with respect. I love learning about other cultures and foods and music and ways of thinking. One of the things I love most about the Jews I have met is how joyfully — and sometimes with profound and overwhelming sadness — they celebrate many of their traditions, and how they pass them on to their children. It breaks my heart to see the Great Falls Jewish community disintegrate, as have many Christian communities, for some of the same reasons. I hope our household of faith will continue to grow ever stronger with God as the common denominator, the firm foundation on which it is built, a foundation that will not be shaken. L-Chaim!
NOTE: This song was sung at our wedding.
from the May 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine http://www.jewishmag.com
All names have been changed to protect privacy, though it’s fairly pointless to locals, who will recognize everyone.
Back in 1966, I refused to sing Christmas Carols. I was in the fourth grade.
Wanda Button pulled me away from a spirited game of Chinese Jump Rope at recess. Wanda and I were not friends. She had bad news.
“You killed God.”
I was nine years old and I denied it. “Did not.”
“My mom said the Jews killed God.”
I knew a little about Judaism, but I didn’t remember this part. Matzoh, I knew. Dressing up at Purim, I knew. Passover Seders, those I knew.
I was only nine, but hearing that I killed God explained a lot.
It explained why I was the only Jew in class. Who else would fess up? It explained why the Germans had been so mad at us. It also explained why my dad was home dying of cancer. He was a German, and he married a Jew. I was Jewish enough to understand we were being punished. I barely knew what it meant to be a Jew, and I was already riddled with guilt.
Even then, though, I wondered, if we killed God, God is dead. Why are these Christians still going to churches? If we killed God, I mean like, what’s the point?
I started to cry.
I went home and confronted my mother, who had problems of her own, with five kids and my very sick father. Alone after dinner, her red hands dripping over the sink, I asked her if what Wanda said was true.
Mom was tired. She may have been having her own crisis of faith. “It was a long time ago. Some people think Jewish leaders killed Jesus,” she said. “But it’s not your fault. It’s not my fault, and it might not even be true.”
It was a weak defense.
Three months later my father died. I took a week off school, and everyone in my class signed a sympathy card. Even Wanda.
By spring, I was convinced that my father was really dead, that he hadn’t just done a good job of faking cancer to become an International Secret Agent Against Communists, who were worse than us Jews even, which made me feel a rung up.
I was beginning to enjoy the wide berth that a few of my classmates cut me around the lunch table. Occasionally I gave them a look that might lead them to believe I was planning to crucify them.
I told my mother I wanted to understand more about being Jewish. She kvelled. She hired the converted daughter of a local artist to teach me a little more about the faith.
Mostly I remember Hallie Johnson for being…how did my mother put it—sent away—for mental problems after I had only three or four Hebrew lessons. Obviously this Jewish stuff drove people nuts, which was fine with me. All the normal Christian folk out there seemed to need a few crazy Jews. Sign me up.
Other than Hallie, the local Jews, all five or six families, seemed pretty nice. Not exactly normal, but nice. The summer after my father died, the Bernsteins gave us their old three-foot-deep hard-walled swimming pool. All we had to do was to drive to their house in the Country Club and pick it up in our 1958 station wagon.
Izzie Bernstein stored the pool in his bomb shelter. I remember going into the Bernstein’s basement, crawling through a concrete tunnel and into a little room lined with shelves of kosher food to fetch the pool. I remember Mrs. Bernstein talking real nice to my mom, and I remember Izzie at the kitchen table, as big around as he was tall, stacking piles of silver dollars, barely nodding when I lugged the huge box through the kitchen on my way to the car.
When Izzie died, the governor of Montana attended his funeral. Izzie was a big man, worth his weight in precious campaign contributions.
Then there were the Goldmans. I was older than David, younger than Helen. I never knew the two older Goldman kids. The oldest daughter married a rabbi when I was little. We always nodded dutifully when the bride’s mother Ida, her voice somewhere between Marlene Deitrich and a Yiddish foghorn, mentioned “my son-in-law the rabbi” at the top and bottom of every hour for the entire eight years of her daughter’s marriage.
Ida’s foghorn went silent last year, but to every Montana Jew who ever heard it, Ida Goldman’s voice echoes like a Yiddish Yodel in the Rockies.
The Goldmans were related to the Abrahams. This was eternally confusing. My mom used first names— Bertha, Toots, Sylvia, Ben. “Montana Jews didn’t need last names,” she claimed. There were so few Montana Jews; I guess I was the only one who was confused.
The Abraham family had two Jewish brothers who used to be business partners. Mom admonished me never to mention one brother in front of the other. I could never remember who was who. My rule? Never open my mouth in front of any male Abraham.
One Abraham brother who didn’t go into the family business may soon win a Nobel Prize, which is an award from the guy who felt guilty about inventing dynamite. Nobel, of course, must have been Jewish. Another Abraham daughter is a Hollywood producer whose ex-husband lives in her backyard, and the last of the Abrahams knows more about everything than anyone else in town (just ask him).
One import to our local Tribe was Annie, a fashionable woman married to a South African Jewish expat. She was bleached blonde and always vaguely miserable. My mother made sure no one else was in the room when she furtively told me Annie’s husband might have ‘connections’. I secretly wondered what a man with connections looked like naked.
I almost drowned in Annie’s pool when I was seven years old. Many years later, long after Annie’s family left Montana, after days of looking, the authorities found someone’s missing child, dead under a tarp that covered their pool.
The most beautiful women in our town were the Greenberg girls. Minnie Greenberg was an Italian war bride. I can only imagine how depressing it must have been for her, not speaking a word of English, which probably explains why Minnie was blue. Her three daughters were as lovely as any magazine picture, and she had an entire bedroom in her house devoted to a doll collection, which no one was allowed to touch.
The Levys? Their claim to fame was that their oldest son Saul was on a national television game show. This made him a local celebrity, until he died, very young, of the same rare cancer that also took the life of his younger sister. We recently re-discovered Beth, a Levy sister, who lives near on the San Andreas Fault. Figures.
The last Jew I remember is Mr. Jacoby, who scraped by in a two room flat facing Central Avenue. He was small with a hooked nose and a heavy French accent. He had no one. My mother doesn’t even remember him, but I do.
When I was growing up the entire Jewish community would gather at two places: the Malmstrom Air Force Base Chapel just outside town, and once a year, any vacant Jewish-owned storefront for the Aitz Chaim Hebrew Association Garage Sale.
We always had great rummage sales: it was the High Holy Day of my Jewish calendar: I’d come home with enough Greenberg girl dresses and Abraham toys to be the envy of my lower southside neighborhood for weeks.
Occasionally the Air Force flew in rabbis to serve the smattering of Jews who temporarily augmented our Tribe. We’d roll in a huge armoire, a velvet covered Torah-on-Wheels, into the Malmstrom Air Force Base Chapel, and placed it off to the side of the big blonde wood cross—never in front of it. Union prayer books slid next to New Testaments in slots behind each pew.
I don’t remember the services, but I remember the room off to the right, where food was served and us kids, after a cookie or two, awkwardly waited for the whole thing to end.
I haven’t been to our Base Chapel in ages. When I visit big cities, I slow down at synagogues, I touch their stone walls, sometimes I even read the posters behind the glass.
The closest I’ve been to a service in decades is this year’s Seder. A former Great Falls Jew—the one divorced from the rabbi–invited twenty eight guests into her flat in Chelsea, gave six visitors three different Hagaddahs to share, and directed our attention to the iMac in the corner, where, from somewhere in the Middle East, Ida Goldman’s granddaughter, a Montana Jew Once Removed, supervised the proceedings, dressed in her battle fatigues, via Skype.
I could almost hear Ida Goldman proudly rasp at the bottom of the hour, “That’s my granddaughter, the rabbi.”
One of the few remaining Jewish matriarchs passed away a few days ago. Last spring, Ida Goldman died; her sister Yetti Abraham went the year before. It’s become a spring tradition. Remind me to send my mother out of town next April.
It was only after I bought the sympathy card that I realized I wasn’t sure where to send it. Yetti’s husband passed three years ago, her kids all moved away. I held the card in my hand until I had an idea. I’m sure our mailman will nod and see that it’s properly delivered. I’m going to address the envelope:
Great Falls MT 59401
EDITOR’S NOTE: No one should experience a shooting incident in their house of worship and prayer, but more and more of us are more and more frequently. After the outcries of “never again” and the candlelight vigils and the speeches and actions of solidarity and defiance, then what? These are the life stories of real people who have suffered the very thing we all fear could happen to us. May we keep them ever in our thoughts and prayers, and may we be ever vigilant and watchful for ways to educate others and ourselves regarding antisemitism in our own communities and hearts. A little light can dispel a lot of darkness.
Chabad of Poway turns first Shabbat after shooting into a celebration of life
EDITOR’S NOTE: This might encourage some of you to write down your memories and send them in to email@example.com for publication in the Ram’s Horn.
My memories of the Butte Jewish Community and how it came to be
This story must begin in Russia from where my ancestors came. We were serfs in that hate filled land. The Ehrlichs, like other Jews, were permitted to build a small hovel in a shtetl. The home had to be of wood… so it could be burned from time to time at the whim of the landowner, the Cossacks, or the Czar; most had a dirt floor. Serfdom was like slavery; you could grow or produce whatever you want, but everything that you produce belonged to the landowner who permitted your existence so long as he felt like it. One common rule was the requirement that a Jewish girl could be married only after she spent the night in the landowner’s house. Jews countered by sending the girl as unattractive as possible, head shaven, dirty and wearing old clothes; hoping that she would be sent back home unviolated. The bride would then appear at her wedding wearing a wig; and henceforth all her married life. This custom is still followed in many orthodox communities to this day; although many do not know the origin of the tradition. Protective embarrassment or ignorance?
Meyer Ehrlich wanted to marry Rachel Feldman and asked his father (whose name I don’t know) to talk to Rachel’s father to help arrange it. Rachel, however, had an older sister, Leah. David Feldman, the girl’s father, made it clear that the older daughter must marry first, and Meyer agreed to marry Leah. Yes, this sounds like the biblical story of our ancestors. Deviousness seems to be an Ehrlich trait.
Meyer and Leah saved enough money so that they were able to hop the train immediately after the wedding and head for America. They left from a German port, steerage class, and arrived in New York in 1895. They lived in Patterson, N.J. and produced the first two of eight children: Rose and Dave (my father). Meyer had heard land in America could still be had for free (the Homestead Act) and he wanted to be a landowner. He clearly thought the glories and status of the Russian landowner would also apply in America. He and Leah moved to Denver and applied. Meyer was a skillful tailor and supported his growing family while awaiting response from the government. Meyer soon learned that the best homestead plots had been taken, but he had the choice of three and he traveled to inspect them, and accepted a grant in northern Idaho near Plummer junction (a few miles down the lake from Coeur d’ Alene).
Life was difficult on the homestead, the land was only suitable as a tree farm, and within a year or two Leah took the younger kids and went to Butte where she had a relative. Meyer and the older kids stayed on to fulfill the requirements to gain ownership of the land. They all moved to Butte by 1915.
During the time on the homestead the Ehrlichs had very good relations with the Kootnai Indians; and they were “visited” by a representative of the Catholic Mission at Cataldo, whom they sent away such that he did not return. The Catholics of course were on mission to convert mainly the Indians, but Jews souls as well were targeted. The Indians still remember and resent loss of their culture and language in the Catholic schools. To this day the Indian tribes and members specifically go to Jewish lawyers when they need representation.
Meyer and Leah had eight children between 1896 and 1914: Rose, Dave, Herman, Lou, Marion, Mitch, Freda, and Joe. Dave worked for the Milwaukee RR and, along with Meyer’s meager earnings, financed the education of the younger brothers and sisters, who also worked odd jobs as they could. Usually Dave was working two jobs at a time, sometimes three. Dave completed seventh grade but did not go to any higher education, unlike all the other kids, other than Joe who was not capable. Rose and Marion became teachers and moved out to the Seattle area.
Jobs were hard to find during the depression. Dave got Herman a fireman’s job on the Milwaukee running from Harlowtown MT to Aberdeen, S.D. He would overnight in Aberdeen and work the train back west the next day. He got to know the town and learned of a jewelry store available. Herman had attended Bradley Horological School (watch and clock making and repairing) and was able to buy the jewelry and watch store in Aberdeen, S.D. Lou became a pharmacist and owned Henry’s Pharmacy on West Granite St. in Butte, and Mitch became a dentist and had a practice in the Medical Arts Building at Park and Main in Butte.
In the 1930’s there was tremendous antisemitism worldwide. Butte was no exception. One day antisemetic posters appeared all over town blaming the Jews for killing Jesus and making matzos with blood from Christian children, and all sorts of problems. The Jewish community had a special meeting in the Temple to discuss it. Nobody knew what to do and all were scared. Dave noticed the printer’s mark on the bottom of many of the posters which identified the print shop in Three Forks. He said he knew the owner because he used to work with him on the railroad. He got Mitch, Herman, and Lou to drive over to Three Forks in Mitch’s car, where Dave went in and spoke to the owner while “the boys” waited in the car outside. The printer said the order and the money for the antisemetic posters came from Senator Rankin’s office! He became very apologetic and said he wouldn’t be doing any more similar orders.
Jeanette Rankin was the daughter of a pharmacist in Virginia City. In fact her father’s old drug store is still a tourist attraction there. She had been elected to the Senate in time to vote against US participation in WWI; and she was in the Senate at the time of Pearl Harbor and cast the only “no” vote to the declaration of war against Germany and Japan (WWII). She was a notable antisemite and had many supporters in Butte.
One of those supporters was Monsignor English; a big higher-up in the Catholic Church. English was famous for his Sunday sermons at mass blaming the Jews for killing Jesus and such. Parishoners of his Sacred Heart Church frequently came to Mitch’s office or Lou’s store and described the antisemitism, but said they could do nothing about it. So when you hear the claims of Butte’s open-mindedness and how everybody got along with good feelings, you should know nonsense is being put out before you.
Most of the Jewish men in town were members of B’Nai Brith. In 1936 they hosted the BB national convention at the Finlen Hotel in Butte. The leaders were Billy Meyer, (lawyer) and of course his son Sig Meyer (lawyer), Avron Canty (clothing) and his father, Sig Newman and Mel Rafish (shoes), Sammy Finberg (furniture), Kalman Rudolph (furniture), Henry Coddon (wholesale paper), Emil and Ed Marans (womens wear), and of course the Ehrlich boys, also Harry Gronfein and his son Stanley (mens clothing), and Dave Schultz, (clothing), and others. Phil Judd (sporting goods and hardware), also Dr. Sam Rafish, the other Jewish dentist in Montana. Everyone said it was the finest event ever. Jews were almost always shopkeepers.
Butte hit it bigtime after the 1905 World’s Fair in Chicago, which demonstrated the electric light for the first time. Suddenly copper was in high demand for electrification, even though this was somewhat held back by the demands of WWI and the depression years. Since the completion of electrification by means of copper wire in the 1950’s, copper demand plateaued, and with the development of fiberoptics and satellite communication it has plummeted. Butte’s mines closed in the 1960’s and the pit which replaced them has also ceased operations. Butte’s Jewish population has moved on to other locales.
During the Second World War (1939-1945), my father Dave worked the railroad terminal without a day off. He was on call 24 hours a day. He often would return to meet a train at two in the morning. He always walked the 7 or so blocks on his wooden prosthetic leg, He didn’t have a car until the mid 1950’s. My mother stayed home and had insomnia. Often she would want to walk uptown (she never drove) at odd hours of the night, and she’d take me with her, especially if the weather was nice. Many stores were open 24 hours because the mines were always running 24 hrs/day and people were always walking the streets. Usually I’d get an ice cream or some candy. There was never concern about being bothered on the street; everybody was extremely polite. “Yes ma’am”, “good evening sir”, and a tip of the hat greeting was almost universal. There was almost never any kind of theft or break-in, even among this population of tough miners. The reason was that nearly every home was well stocked with hunting rifles, shotguns and handguns. Every shopkeeper dealt heavily in cash, often silver dollars, and had a weapon. Everybody knew that many women had a weapon in their purse or elsewhere. Politeness was the norm.
I had a very good half-Jewish friend named Jack Rosenberg. They owned Rosenberg’s furniture and appliance. The Rosenberg’s like many people heated their home with wood and had a woodpile in their yard. One day I was over there and Jack’s father gave us a 12 gauge shotgun shell and a brace and bit and said somebody has been stealing from his firewood pile. He told us to drill a hole in a piece of firewood and drop the shell down inside and conceal the hole by mixing some glue and sawdust and filling the hole with it. We placed the fixed firewood piece in a prominent place. A few days later Jack’s dad said a neighbor from down the street was “in today and bought a new stove” for his parlor. We knew what that meant.
My first few years of grade school I walked from our house on Main St to the Monroe school in east Butte, near Utah St. I walked thru the gas works and past St. Joe’s (the catholic) school. Of course I knew many of the kids there and they knew I was a Jew. Almost every day they’d throw rocks or snowballs at me. Being outnumbered I usually had to just run the gauntlet. Occasionally there’d be only one or two of them and I could get a punch in before running; or if I was with another kid (non-catholic) or two from Monroe school I was golden. Then we’d have a mass snowball or rockfight-depending on the season. My public school friends then were Bobby Vawter, Joe Holly whose family owned the Supreme Market where we did all our grocery shopping, and Nicky and Jimmy Malkovich, and Chico Kovic. Some of these kids were catholic but went to the public school. Billy Edwards was catholic but he was my friend because his grandmother Mrs. Silver was a friend of my grandmother (Leah) and they always were trading baked goods.
Butte always had the image of rough and ready. Hard drinking and hard fighting. This started with the underground wars of the copper kings but extended to the streets and schoolyards. (It continues today with Bob Robinson… the navy seal who killed Osama Bin Laden.) Growing up in the 1950’s I remember schoolyard fistfights nearly every recess and dismissal, although I can’t remember the reason for any. It was common for a kid to go home bloodied and come to school the next day as though nothing had happened. Nobody ever carried a grudge. I do not remember of any kid bringing a weapon to school. Fair fighting fists only.
And we had easy and common access to guns of all kinds. I myself went with my friend Bobby Vawter on our bikes to shoot rabbits at Big Butte, (the mountain south of the city). Each of us with a 22 rifle strapped over the shoulder. Bobby was not Jewish, would take the rabbits home and his mother would skin and cook them. My mother, of course, would not touch them.
The community was pretty observant in the old days. On Pesach there would be a community seder at the Finlen. The ladies would make all the foods and bring them for everybody to share and afterward talk about. “The kneidlach Mrs. so-and-so made were so hard you’d need a nutcracker”; “that soup was so greasy it could go into the crankcase”; and similar comments.
Nobody made outdoor sukkot but each year an arch was erected over the bima inside the Temple and decorated with greenery and fruits. Talesim and kippot were never worn. Services were Friday nite only with emphasis to be finished in time to get to the high school stadium for kickoff. I don’t remember any Saturday religious events; everybody worked in their stores.
Butte’s Jewish community was pretty observant in the ’40’s and even into the ’50’s, but as the population dwindled the Judaism observance did as well. The orthodox synagogue closed up and became members of the Reform Temple. The quality of the employed rabbis deteriorated too: One was known to the police for unusual sexual interests and let go. He was replaced by “Rabbi Benjamin Kelson” who tutored me for my Bar Mitzvah. It was discovered later that he did hnot actually have “smicha” (ordination).
Soon the community gave up employing a rabbi and relied on bringing in rabinical students for major functions. I believe that now the Temple stands empty nearly all the time and is rarely opened any more. About a year ago I was in Butte with my son Daniel, who is an orthodox rabbi, (with smicha!) and he offered to conduct a proper Shabbat observance for the community, at no charge. We were bluntly discouraged and told “people have other plans”.
I think that describes the rise and fall of Butte’s Jewish community.
Fred Ehrlich; May 2019
Missoula Mishkan Milestone RESCHEDULED
October 18, 19, and 20
Our wiser angels emerged to recommend that we reschedule our Shabbaton for Fall so that Rabbi Laurie can have the necessary recovery time for her health challenges. We are VERY excited to announce a new set of dates: October 18, 19, and 20, the last three days of Sukkot! So, we hope you will revise your plans and join us then.
We are thrilled to further develop the new research for “Missoula’s Jewish Treasures”, a groundbreaking exhibit of the Jewish history of Missoula, as well as offer inspiring worship, learning, and an elegant Motzi Shabbat evening of Jazz. We look forward to celebrating with you in October!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the Rabbi who led Dawn Schandelson’s funeral service.
Congregation Beth Shalom of Bozeman, Montana is proud to announce that Rabbi Mark Hayim Kula will join the Beth Shalom community as rabbi beginning July 1. Rabbi Kula comes to Congregation Beth Shalom with a wealth of warmth, enthusiasm, and experience, having served as a rabbi and cantor in Miami, Florida for 30 years.
“I am honored and delighted to join the Congregation Beth Shalom family and Bozeman community,” Rabbi Kula wrote in a letter to the community. “These are exciting and challenging times. Let us take care of ourselves and others, nurture our relationships, and tap into profound Jewish wisdom. We will then surely thrive and be blessed.” Amber Ikeman, Beth Shalom’s Program Director and Cantorial Soloist, will work closely with Rabbi Kula to serve the Jewish community in Bozeman and the surrounding area.
Rabbi Kula was ordained as a rabbi by The Rabbinical Academy of New York in 2012, and as a cantor by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1986. He has extensive experience as a spiritual leader and Jewish educator, having served at Bet Shira Congregation in Miami, Florida for 30 years, first as cantor and then as rabbi. Most recently, Rabbi Kula has been enjoying a year living in Missoula with his family.
According to Sara Schwerin, president of the board at Congregation Beth Shalom, “We have seen a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and engagement from our community over the past 18 months, as we searched for the right person to lead Beth Shalom. Our entire community is looking forward to the energy, kindness, leadership and spiritual guidance that Rabbi Kula offers. We could not be happier about the leadership team that we have put in place to guide us into the future.”
In June 2018, Beth Shalom Rabbi Ed Stafman retired after ten years of service. Since then, Beth Shalom has enjoyed monthly visits from Rabbi Michael Lotker, who will continue to serve as Beth Shalom’s part-time interim rabbi until Rabbi Kula’s July 1, 2019 start date. Beth Shalom wishes to thank Rabbi Michael Lotker for providing such wonderful leadership over the past year, and for helping to ensure a smooth transition for the community. Beth Shalom also wishes to thank Rabbi Emeritus Ed Stafman for his continued connection to Beth Shalom and his leadership in the greater Bozeman community.
Please join Congregation Beth Shalom two Fridays each month at 6 p.m. for Shabbat services and each Saturday morning for Torah Study at 9:30 a.m. Rabbi Kula, Rabbi Lotker and Rabbi Emeritus Stafman will be joining us for a special celebration of Shavuot on Saturday, June 8; please check our website for details closer to the date.
All are welcome to join Congregation Beth Shalom in worship, learning and social action. Please contact the Temple office at (406) 556-0528, check us out on Facebook “Congregation Beth Shalom – Bozeman, Montana” or visit our website http://www.bethshalombozeman.org to learn more.
Congregation Beth Shalom is a place where members of all ages come together to be a learning and spiritual community joyfully praying together and celebrating Jewish history and tradition. Founded in 1994, and serving the greater Yellowstone community, Congregation Beth Shalom of Bozeman is the largest Jewish congregation in Montana.
Compiled by Aitz Chaim over many years, this list is maintained by the Ram’s Horn. Please send any corrections or additions to firstname.lastname@example.org
May the source of peace send peace to all who mourn, and may we be a comfort to all who are bereaved.
This is a reminder about the lay services led by Devorah Werner ON the first Friday of the month, May 3, at 6:00 P.M. at the Bethel, with a milchig (dairy) potluck to follow.
Hope to see you there.
The address for the Bethel is 1009 18th Avenue Southwest. click here for map and directions.
Please remember that the Aitz chaim Community Seder is this Friday, April 26, at 5:30 P.M., in the basement of the O’Haire Motor Inn, 17 7th Street South, in Great Falls.
Please have your reservations in by this week end, as we will need to have a count to the caterer by Monday, April 22.
For reservations or inquiries, e-mail Laura at
Send your payment to:
Congregation Aitz Chaim
C/O Wendy Weissman, CPA
525 Central Avenue, Suite L8
Great Falls, MT 59401-3271
Looking forward to seeing you there.
Next year in Jerusalem, but if not, the O’Haire Motor Inn!