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November 18, 1988 - Image 29

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-11-18

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synagogue for the holidays and that was
just life in Marshalltown, Iowa."
The Bucksbaums had no trouble main-
taining their Jewish identity. But Dr.
Stanley Talpers. who grew up in Casper.
Wyoming, said it was difficult, because
there were very few Jewish families and no
synagogue. For the High Holidays,
however, they would get as a rabbi a stu-
dent from the Hebrew Union Theological
Seminary in Cincinnati. "The rabbis
thought Casper was a terrific place to
come," he remembered, "because Harry
Yesness, who was the clothier, would give
each rabbinical student a new suit and a
cowboy hat and boots. -
But this adoring view of Casper was not
shared by Dr. Talpers' grandparents, who
lived in Denver, almost 300 miles away.
They never traveled to Casper. "It was like
going into foreign territory for them," he
said. "They lived in a Jewish world, and we
lived in a Gentile world, and they really
didn't want to step out of their world into
our world. We were always expected to go
down to Denver."
One aspect of this "Gentile world," Dr.
Talpers suggested, was the way Christmas
impinged on him and his family. "Christ-
mas," he said, "is when you find out
whether you are Jewish or not."

Simon Bourgin


70, writer and consultant, Washington, D.0
I was born and grew up in Ely, Min-
nesota, which today has a population of
5,000, almost the same population it had
when I grew up. Ely is an exotic place.
First of all, it's at the end of the line. The
railway, when it went there, stopped and
came back again. Ely is 20 miles from
Canada, and all the way up to Hudson Bay
there is no city its size. It has about 2,000
Finns and another 2,500 Slovenes, and
then it has a few Swedes and a couple of
Bulgarians. When I grew up there it had
five Jewish families. Four of them had
clothing stores, and one had a little run-
down hotel.
There were two brothers, Mike and Louie
Gordon, who each had separate stores. My
father had a clothing store. The
Rosenblums had another clothing store,
and then there were the Bourgins, who had
the little hotel and were distant cousins of
mine. But the Jewish families did not con-
sort much with the people in the town, who
didn't consort with them. They saw each
other almost exclusively, and they played
pinochle and poker endlessly. And at these
poker games they quarreled endlessly.
They would all come back again in a week
because they had nothing else to do. They
all had clothing stores and were com-
petitive and watched who went into each
other's store. Somehow they never quar-
reled about that.
Ely is an iron-mining town. The miners
were Finns and Slovenes. If you didn't go
away to school. you just took it for granted

you were going down into the hole. It was
nothing that people looked forward to very
much. Because I was middle-class and
belonged to a family that obviously was
not going to send its son down into the
hole, I was regarded as sort of special and
My father was born in Lithuania, about
20 miles north of Vilna. He came to the
United States, like a lot of others, to avoid
military service in the Russian army. He
left my mother there pregnant, and went
first to Liverpool for a couple of months
— the only trade he had was a tailor —
then to Brooklyn for a couple of months.
By good fortune — my good fortune —
there were two people from his village who
somehow had gotten up to northern Min-
nesota, and he wrote to them.
My father came to Ely in 1908 and he
must have been about 19 or 20. My mother
followed him about five years later. She
said that she had heard nothing from him
for several years and thought it was all over
and he was undependable. Then came two
tickets. I never discussed the emotional
problems involved, but the thing I
remember most vividly is my mother say-
ing that when she came to Ellis Island she
got on a train and she got on a train and
she got on a train and she just went on and
on and she finally got on the last train and
it went obviously from Minneapolis up to
Duluth. She couldn't understand what this
husband of hers had done. It was the most
godforsaken country; nothing but pine
trees and boulders and a few lakes.
My father started out like a lot of other
people. He became a peddler. But he was
an unusual peddler in the sense that his
customers were unusual. They were In-
dians who lived in the woods and on Indian

"My brother Dave [who owned
the Jewish cemetery in the town
of Virginia, Mimi.] married a
Lutheran. By her wish, he was
buried with her mother, away
from the Jews. So he's not in his
own cemetery."

— Simon Bourgin, Washington, D.0

reservations, and they were loggers and
iron miners. He used to hike between lbwer
and Ely, 20 miles. There was still no road
then. He used to carry all this stuff on his
back and sell it on the way, and eventually
he made a grubstake enough to open a
small clothing store in Ely.
My mother kept a kosher house until a
certain event happened. We got our meat
by railroad from Duluth, 120 miles away.
Cohen, who was the kosher butcher in
Duluth, used to send us the very worst
meat. It came wrapped in paper and in a
burlap sack. It wasn't very good when it
started out, and it just got worse and

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