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  JEWISH AND KOSHER MONTANA, USA  הקהילה היהודית במונטנה, ארה"ב

JEWISH AND KOSHER UNITED STATES

 
 
 
  MONTANA  
 

JEWISH AND KOSHER MONTANA:

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Montana (Listeni/mɒnˈtænə/) is a state in the Western United States. The western third of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges. Smaller "island ranges" are found in the central third of the state, for a total of 77 named ranges that are part of the Rocky Mountains. This geographical fact is reflected in the state's name, derived from the Spanish word montaña (mountain). Montana has several nicknames, none official, including: "Big Sky Country" and "The Treasure State", and slogans that include "Land of the Shining Mountains" and more recently, "The Last Best Place". Montana is the 4th-most extensive, but the 7th-least populous and the 3rd-least densely populated of the 50 United States. The economy is primarily based on services, with ranching, wheat farming, oil and coal mining in the east, and lumber, tourism, and hard rock mining in the west. Millions of tourists annually visit Glacier National Park, the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, and three of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park.

Jewish Montana:

JEWISH AND KOSHER MONTANA, USA      הקהילה היהודית במונטנה, ארה"ב
Temple Emanu-El, 1891 - 1930, Building on National Register of Historic Places, Helena, Montana. Now, ironically, houses the administrative offices of the Helena Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. July 20, 2012, Montanabw

Temple Emanu-El in Helena, Montana, United States, was the first Jewish synagogue to be constructed between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon. It was completed in 1891. The once-thriving Jewish community of Helena declined to the point that by the 1930s they could no longer maintain the building, and it was sold to the State of Montana, which added a second floor, converted it to office space and removed most religious symbolism from the building, though kept the unique stained glass windows. Eventually, the building fell into disuse by the state other than storage space, and so it was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Helena, which owns it today and uses it to house their administrative offices. While the Jewish communities of Montana have always been small, they have become more active and visible in recent decades.

Building History

Construction of the temple began in 1890, with the cornerstone laid by Montana governor Joseph K. Toole, and was completed in 1891. Achitects Heinlein and Mathias used granite, porphyry and sandstone in the construction to create the building, which could hold as many as 500 people. It is built in Neo-Romanesque style with keyhole windows and stained glass. The original building also featured a 30-foot high ceiling in the sanctuary, and two large "onion"-style domes outside capping the towers placed on either side of the front entrance, making it an example of Moorish Revival architecture. However, after the turn of the 20th century, the congregation fell upon hard economic times, and by the 1930s the Jewish population of Helena was too small to maintain the building.  The leader of the remaining congregation, Norman Winestine, arranged to sell off the organ and pews to the Seventh-Day Adventists,  and the State of Montana bought the temple itself for $1, promising to use the building for "a good and social purpose."  The state remodeled the building in 1935-1936, adding a second floor over what had been the sanctuary, removed the onion domes,  as well as most of the religious symbols on the exterior, some by sandblasting. The stained glass windows, however, were preserved. The state used the building to house the offices of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.  The temple was not actively used from 1976–1980, serving as a storage space for the Montana Historical Society.  Winestine, still living, feared it would be torn down.  But in 1980 the Catholic Diocese of Helena bought it for approximately $83,000, and today it serves as the headquarters for the Diocese offices, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. In 2001, a plaque commemorating the synagogue was placed on the outside of the building, which continues to be well-maintained by the Diocese.

History of Helena's Jewish community

JEWISH AND KOSHER MONTANA, USA      הקהילה היהודית במונטנה, ארה"ב
Cornerstone of the temple,  inscribed with
 the Hebrew calendar year of its founding.
July 20, 2012, Montanabw

During the Montana Gold Rush hundreds of Jewish people came to Montana, many of them to Helena. The early Jewish settlers to Helena were mostly of German origin, hailing from Prussia, Bavaria, and Austria, as well some from Poland. Forming a mutual aid organization called the United Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1866, they became a major economic force in the city, owning 17 of Helena's 20 dry goods stores by 1867. In 1871, merchant Jacob Feldberg was nicknamed "Helena's Paul Revere for his courage in organizing a bucket brigade that saved his entire neighborhood from a fire. In 1877, twenty percent of Helena's Board of Trade was Jewish, and the owner of the International Hotel, Marcus Lissner, served six terms on the Helena City Council. Lissner's hotel repeatedly burned during the many fires that plagued Helena's business district in the 1860s and 1870s, yet he rebuilt it each time until it was nicknamed, "The Phoenix." Other members of Helena's jewish community made significant contributions to the city, such as Josephine Israel, who not only supported the building of the temple, but also was the founder of Shodair Children's Hospital.  On a purchasing trip to New York, Helena merchant Herman Gans convinced Rabbi Samuel Schulman to move to Helena. Rabbi Schulman was from Berlin and brought German Reform Judaism along. Rabbi Schulman and Gans were heavily involved in building Helena's temple.

The United Hebrew Benevolent Society also developed the Home of Peace Cemetery, which, due to the large numbers of Jewish people who left Helena (and much of Montana) during the Great Depression, now contains more bodies than the current living Jewish population of Helena.  In nearby Butte, Montana, the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Butte followed, in 1881. The Butte Jewish community formed Congregation B'Nai Israel in 1897, completing their Temple 1903.

Montana's Jewish community today

JEWISH MONTANA: SITE OF FIRST JEWISH HOUSE OF WORSHIP IN MONTANA, 1890

Commemorative marker, placed 2001, showing original building design with domes that were removed in the 1930s remodel of the building. July 20, 2012, Montanabw

JEWISH AND KOSHER MONTANA, USA    הקהילה היהודית במונטנה, ארה"ב
Stained Glass Windows of the Temple were preserved during the Depression-era remodeling of the building. July 20, 2012, Montanabw 

Temple B'Nai Israel still holds services in Butte, but the Helena Jewish community does not have a Temple at present. As of 2008, there are only about 1,000 self-identified Jews in Montana, a state with a population of about 900,000. The largest number are in Bozeman, where Rabbi Allen Secher was for a long time the only rabbi in the state. He retired in 2008. Other active Jewish communities, mostly Reform Judaism in affiliation, are found in Great Falls, Billings, the Flathead valley and Whitefish, Helena, Missoula, and Butte. They operate under the Montana Association of Jewish Communities, or "MAJCO". The Bozeman Jewish community includes amongst its membership Franke Wilmer, a state representative who was a Democatic primary election candidate for Congress in the 2012 election. In recent years, there have also been efforts to bring the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Judaism to Montana, beginning with the 2006 arrival of Rabbi Chaim Bruk, originally from Brooklyn, who splits his time between Montana and California.

In 2008, local interest in Judaism was revived when the city of Helena bought a surplus bomb-sniffing dog for the price of a plane ticket from the Israel Defense Forces, who had gotten the puppy from an animal shelter in The Netherlands, but upon arrival, the Helena police department discovered the dog only responded to Hebrew commands and, though given a printed vocabulary list of commands, the officer in charge of the dog could not get "Miky" the German Shepherd to respond.  When Rabbi Bruk came to the state capitol for a Hanukkah ceremony, the officer asked him some questions. Bruk taught the officer how to correctly pronounce Hebrew and then Miky began to respond.

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JEWISH AND KOSHER MONTANA:

 
 


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