(1846 - 1926)
In 1916, Simon Bamberger ran for the office of governor
of the state of Utah. Bamberger was the first non-Mormon, the first
Democrat and the only Jew ever to seek that office. During the campaign,
Bamberger visited a remote community in Southern Utah that had been
settled by immigrant Norwegian converts to Mormonism. According to historian
Leon Watters, the communitys leader, a towering Norwegian, met
Bamberger at the train and told him menacingly, "You might yust
as vell go right back vere you come from. If you tink ve let any damn
Yentile speak in our meeting house, yure mistaken." Bamberger is
said to have replied, "As a Jew, I have been called many a bad
name, but this is first time in my life I have been called a damned
Gentile!" The Norwegian threw his arm around Bamberger and proclaimed,
"You a Yew, an Israelite. Hear him men, hes not a Yentile,
hes a Yew, an Israelite. Velcome my friend; velcome, our next
governor." The Norwegian was correct; Bamberger won the election.
From the founding of their religion in 1830, Mormons (or Latter-Day
Saints, as they are named) have respected Judaism as a religion. Joseph
Smith, founder of Mormonism, proclaimed that "Lehi, a prophet of
the tribe of Manasseh . . . led his tribe out of Jerusalem in the year
600 BC to the coast of America." The tenth "Article of Faith"
of Mormonism proclaims, "We believe in the literal gathering of
Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion will be built
upon this (the American) continent." In Mormon metaphor, the Utah
desert was a latter-day Zion, and the Great Salt Lake a latter-day Dead
Sea. The Mormons who settled there under Brigham Youngs leadership
were, in their own minds, direct descendants of the ancient Hebrews.
Accordingly, the early Mormons referred to all non-Mormons regardless
of their religion as "Gentiles." Watters observes, "Utah
is the only place in the world where Jews are Gentiles."
The pioneer Jews of Utah fared well under the Mormon majority. Because
Mormon doctrine proclaimed agrarian pursuits the only respectable calling
and commerce morally corrupting, the role of shopkeeper, banker and
businessman were left to Utahs Jews and other Gentiles. In early
Utah, Jews and Mormons lived in symbiotic, commercial harmony.
Simon Bamberger was one of
the most successful Jewish "Gentiles"
in the early history of Utah. Born in Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany in 1846, he emigrated to America at age 14
in search of his fortune. After spending a
few days in New York, the young Bamberger
departed by train for Cincinnati. He fell
asleep and missed his transfer at Columbus,
Ohio. Instead, he disembarked in Indianapolis,
where he had a cousin. After working in Indianapolis
until the Civil War ended, Simon and his bother
Herman, who migrated to the United States
after Simon, moved to St. Louis and became
clothing manufacturers. On a trip to Wyoming
to collect a debt, Simon learned that the
business had failed. He decided to travel
on to Utah as, in his own words, he "had
no other objective in view" and few prospects
back in St. Louis.
The enterprising Bamberger purchased a half interest in a small hotel
in Ogden, Utah. In Bambergers own words, "Soon thereafter
an epidemic of smallpox broke out and the Union Pacific passengers were
not permitted to come up to the town, so I gave up. I took the Utah
Central to Salt Lake and there bought the Delmonico Hotel
. . . and renamed it the White House in partnership with
B. Cohen, of Ogden." The hotel flourished.
In 1872, Bamberger purchased an interest in a silver mine which, by
1874, made him wealthy enough to retire. However, the pioneering spirit
was too strong in Bamberger to allow him to rest. Two years later, he
raised a million dollars to construct a railroad to some coal mines
in northern Utah in which he had invested. Bamberger then built a second
rail line to some small towns on the outskirts of Salt Lake City. Railroad
competition was fierce, however, and Bamberger lost much of his fortune
in the effort.
In 1910, Bamberger helped establish a Jewish agricultural colony in
Clarion, Utah, and remained one of its most ardent supporters. In 1913
and again in 1915, when the immigrant Jewish farmers became bankrupt,
Bamberger traveled east to raise funds to pay off their debts. His efforts
could not save the colony, however, and it folded in 1915.
His Mormon friends noted Bambergers civic mindedness and urged
him to run for governor. Despite being a Democrat, Bambergers
policies paralleled those of Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives. He
insisted that the legislature balance the state budget, create a public
utilities commission to regulate the price of electricity and gas and
banned gifts by utility companies to public officials. He passed a modified
line-item budget veto; created a state department of public health;
instituted water conservation; and advocated for a lengthened school
year, workers compensation, the rights of unions and the non-partisan
election of judges. Bamberger, a teetotaler, supported prohibition.
He saw most of his platform voted into law.
Bamberger died in 1926 and
is buried in the cemetery of Congregation
Bnai Israel, the first synagogue in Salt Lake City. Of course, hes buried
in the "Yentile" section.
Jewish Historical Society