Thursday, July 3, 2014

Jews in Idaho

Idaho is not a state known for its burgeoning Jewish population. It is currently estimated, according to JewishVirtualLibrary.org, that there are about 1,500 Jews in the state, most of whom live in the Boise area or in Pocatello. 

Like most of the western states, Idaho was populated by settlers in the second half of the 19th century. It was a hard life in a challenging environment, and there were a small number of Jews among the hardy pioneers who settled the territory. 

On July 3, 1890, Idaho became the 43rd state of the union. One year later, Moses Alexander (1852-1932) arrived in Boise, Idaho, on his way to Alaska. Alexander, who had come to America from Bavaria when he was 14, had spent the last 24 years working for a cousin in Chillicothe, Missouri. Heading out on his own, he decided to settle in Boise. He opened a mens clothing store and eventually owned several such stores. 

Having established themselves in Boise, Alexander and his wife Helena became active members in the small Jewish community. In 1895, they played a critical role in the establishment of Congregation Beth Israel (today Ahavath Beth Israel, following a merger with Congregation Ahavath Israel in 1986). The synagogue building is the oldest Jewish house of worship still in use west of the Mississippi. 

Alexander entered Idaho political life in 1897, when he was elected mayor of Boise on the Democratic ticket. He served two (non-consecutive) mayoral terms before running for governor. In 1914, he was elected governor of Idaho and remained in office until 1918, after which he remained active in the Idaho Democratic Party for the rest of his life.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

No comments: