In honor of Iowa’s entry into the United States of America as the 29th state on December 28, 1846, Jewish Treats presents a brief biography of the area’s first Jewish resident, Alexander Levi.
Levi was born in Hellemere, in the Alsace region of France, in March 1809. He arrived in America via New Orleans when he was 24 years old, and immediately headed north into what was then known as the Wisconsin Territory. Settling in the newly incorporated city of Dubuque, Levi opened a grocery store. It was the first of what would be for him a string of successful business ventures. Eventually, Levi was known as a grocer, a miner (both of lead and gold), a mine provisioner and a department store owner.
In 1837, Levi had the unique distinction of becoming the first foreigner to be naturalized in the Wisconsin Territory. That same year, he also became the first mason to be sworn into the new Dubuque lodge.
From the perspective of a Jewish religious and social life, living in the territories was difficult. In 1847, Levi returned to France in order to marry. He returned with his wife Minette, and they had five children born and raised in Dubuque.
By 1857, there were enough Jews in town for Levi to help organize the Bnai Jeshrun Congregation. He also donated 20 acres of his own land for a Jewish cemetery.
Alexander Levi passed away in March 1893. A special obelisk marks his grave as an honor to the first Jew in Iowa.
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