The Joy of the Sabbath

By Lindajoy Fenley

One morning at breakfast at our hotel, Wes Anderson, curator at the Barnes County Historical Museum, mentioned that a local Jewish immigrant had once tried to create a New Israel in North Dakota. Believing few Jews live in the region, I found Anderson’s comment intriguing.

I thought about how the musical ensembles from Israel that I’ve traveled with since 2003 have received warm hospitality from the small Jewish communities who live in World Fest communities. This trip was no different. Our first week in Marquette, MI, Jim and Karlyn Rapport invited us to their home for Shabbat dinner. And last week, in Aberdeen, SD, Congregation B’nai Isaac invited us to their synagogue for Oneg Shabbat.

One of the members explained that Oneg Shabbat “literally means the Joy of the Sabbath – an informal social gathering – held on the Sabbath after services. It usually includes food – as does almost any Jewish gathering, she added. While their 10-member congregation holds Friday night services most of the year, she said onegs are for holidays or times when special visitors arrive.

Wes later brought me the museum’s copy of a book titled “You Have Been Kind Enough to Assist Me”: Herman Stern and the Jewish Refugee Crisis, by Terry Shoptaugh, a history professor and archivist at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Stern, who immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1903, championed the idea of a Jewish colony northwest of Grand Forks, North Dakota. At one point, a life insurance company that owned huge tracts of land lost to taxes during the worst of the dustbowl era, offered Stern 6,240 acres for $124,800 on a 15-year mortgage for the proposed colony, according to Shoptaugh. The offer was later revised to 3,840 acres for $73,350. The colony never came to be, but between 1933 and the onset of World War II, Stern sponsored or co-sponsored about 140 friends and relatives who escaped the Nazi threat and started new lives on the wide open spaces of the prairie.

Lindajoy Fenley with members of Aberdeen's Jewish community Stan, Nicole, Adam, Josh and Benjamin. Photo by Gail Pickus.
Gail Pickus and Joyce of the Aberdeen Jewish community look on while Talya lights candles at the gathering.
Aviad Ben Yehuda and members of the Aberdeen Jewish community are delighted with the meal.
Aviad, Talya, Congregation President Jerry Taylor and Doug Kimmel search for the right prayer for Aviad to read before the meal.
Doug tells his wife Joyce about the Hebrew words he and Aviad wrote on the board.

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