Rabbi touched by Minot
A Brooklyn, N.Y. rabbi with North Dakota roots found a piece of his past during a visit to Minot last week.
“It was really nice coming back and seeing my roots,” said Rabbi Shalom Ber Orenstein, who was assisting Rabbi Yonah Grossman of the Chabad Jewish Center of North Dakota in Fargo to distribute matzah, the special unleavened bread that is eaten during the Jewish holiday of Passover, to Jews across North Dakota.
There are only a handful of Jewish families living in the Minot area today, but there are still many reminders of a vibrant religious community.
Orenstein said he had never been to North Dakota before, but he is a great-grandson of Alex Epstein and his wife Zelda, who were founding members of Temple Beth Israel in Minot. His great-grandmother Zelda Papermaster-Epstein was the daughter of honored North Dakota Rabbi Benjamin Papermaster, who served as a rabbi in Grand Forks at B’Nai Israel for 53 years before his death in 1934, according to a history at http://www.jmaw.org/reverend-benjamin-papermaster-north-dakotas-jewish-spiritual-leader/. His great-grandfather Alex Epstein’s father, Samuel Epstein, was originally from Minsk, but came to North Dakota and operated a general store in Sarles.
“That was a very common job for Jews in North Dakota,” said Orenstein.
Alex Epstein eventually went to Grand Forks, where he met his wife, and the couple moved to Minot.
When Temple Beth Israel in Minot was closed years ago, many of the memorial plaques honoring beloved family members of the congregation were transferred to the Railroad Museum of Minot. Orenstein said he had an opportunity to visit the memorial museum this weekend and to pay his respects to his great-grandparents.
For Orenstein, the visit to North DAkota was a profound experience.
“It’s great coming back to assist Rabbi Grossman,” said Orenstein, “and seeing how the spark of Judaism is being kept alive in North Dakota.”
He said Grossman and Chabad are helping to continue what his ancestors started during their time in North Dakota.
Passover, an eight-day holiday that began on Monday night, honors the liberation of Jews from their slavery in Egypt and the founding of a free nation under Moses. Orenstein said the holiday does not only commemorate past events.
“Every year, we go out of our own Egypt,” said Orenstein, and focus on growing spiritually and overcoming personal limitations.
Orenstein was assisted by Rabbi Mendy Karp to distribute matzah throughout North Dakota this week, including in Minot.
Minot once had a larger congregation of Jewish families. In the early to mid 20th century, Minot had a growing population of Jewish families and the temple in Minot’s historic Eastwood Park neighborhood was in walking distance for many of them. In later years, a number of Minot Jewish families moved away and the temple had to close. The former Jewish temple in Minot was purchased by the Berean Baptist congregation in 2005. Prior to that, Jewish services had occasionally still been held in the building.
But there are still Jews living throughout North Dakota and Rabbi Yonah Grossman of the Chabad Jewish Center of North Dakota said Chabad is there to meet their material and spiritual needs, regardless of background or affiliation. Chabad is in regular touch with members of the community across the state and visit large towns in North Dakota periodically.