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December 23, 1988 - Image 44

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-12-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


Alaska Preserves
Its Jewish Roots


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laska is vast. With an

area equal to 20 per-
cent of the lower 48,
or "the outside," it is the
largest of the 50 states. It has
more coastline than the lower
48 combined, more wilder-
ness, and the highest moun-
tain in North America. The
most sparsely populated
state, Alaska has more
caribou than people. Of the
500,000 Alaskans, about
1,000 are Jewish.
Though few in number,
Jews have played an impor-
tant role in Alaska's history
since sailing with Vitus Ber-
ing's 1741 expedition to chart
Alaska's waters. By mid-19th
century, in Russian America,
German Jews from San Fran-
cisco had developed fur
trading and a steamboat ship-
ping line. Benjamin Levi
lowered the Russian flag and
raised the first American flag
on October 9, 1867, in Sitka,
then the territorial capital.
The next spring fourteen
Jewish settlers gathered
there for a Passover seder
with matzah shipped from
San Francisco.
Traveling in Alaska is a
serendipitous discovery of
historic facts and places of
Jewish interest. For instance,
if you cruise the island-dotted
Inside Passage and stop at
volcano-guarded Sitka, in the
Isabel Miller Museum at
Centennial Hall, you will see
pictorial displays that feature
two of the city's prominent
early Jewish families, the
Cohens and the Witzes. Every
evening at 9 p.m., you will
hear The Bell of University
Prayer. This gift of Dr. Isaac
Knoll, a Polish-born Jew who
settled in Sitka in 1947,
hangs in the Loyal Order of
the Moose Building.
In Juneau, Alaska's scenic
capital, the memorabilia cor-
ner at the Chinook Brewery
displays a yellowing
newspaper ad for "Juneau
Brewery, the only first-class
brewery in Alaska — M.J.
Cohen, Proprietor." Following
in the footsteps of his father,
who established Alaska's first
brewery in Sitka, Cohen own-
ed the Juneau brewery from
1907 to 1910.
In 1885, Robert Goldstein
set up a general store on
Juneu's waterfront. Eight of
his children were born in
Juneau. Isadore served six
terms as the city's mayor, and
Charles, the eldest, built the
Goldstein Building, where he

opened Goldstein's Emporium
in 1914. Still standing at Se-
cond and Seward Streets in
downtown Juneau, the five-
story concrete building serv-
ed as a temporary Capitol for
the Territory of Alaska. The
federal government rented
space for legislative sessions
in 1915 and 1917 and for the
Executive Offices from 1925
until the present State
Capitol was built in 1931. A
plaque in the lobby pays
tribue to Charles Goldstein.
A state hero, Alaska's ter-
ritorial governor from 1939 to
1953 and later U.S. Senator,
Ernest Greuning is
memorialized by Greuning
Park on Glacier Highway bet-
ween downtown and Juneau's
major attraction, the
Mendenhall Glacier.
A small, but active Juneau
Jewish Community holds
Sabbath services every third
Friday evening. They usually
meet at members' homes
with a lay leader conducting
services. High Holy Day ser-
vices, with a rabbi from out-
side, and a community seder
at Passover take place in
rented space.
Further up the Inside
Passage, the town of Haines
developed around Sol Ripin-
sky's trading post. At various
times a teacher, postmaster,
notary, and lawyer, he is
remembered in the town's
new Sheldon Museum. His
study, a photograph of his
store, and a copy of the resolu-
tion he introduced asking
Congress to enact legislation
for territorial governmnet for
Alaska have been preserved
there. Mount Ripinski, nam-
ed for him, hovers 3,600 feet
above the town.
Other "Jewish mountains"
in Alaska are 11,500-foot
Mount Einstein at the head of
Yale Glacier, 32 miles nor-
thwest of Valdez; and Mount
Neuberger, a 6,700-foot peak
in the Alaska Range, honor-
ing Senator Richard
Neuberger of Oregon, who
supported Alaska's statehood.
A glacier, a river, a bay, and
the village of Gerstle Point
are named for Richard Gers-
tle, one of the Jewish mer-
chants who founded the
Alaska commercial Company.
He is credited with igniting
the Klondike Gold Rush
when his steamer docked in-
San Francisco carrying
$750,000 in gold, which con-
firmed letters sent from
Skagway and the Yukon
about the boom.
The northern terminus of
the Inside Passage, Skagway
was the gateway to the Klon-





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