At least 800 Jewish individuals filed for land between 1880 and 1916. They generally settled in clusters. Many were aided by the Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society. In addition several of the earliest settlements, Painted Woods and Devils Lake, were aided by synagogues located in Minnesota's Twin Cities. Homesteaders endured great hardships such as plagues of grasshoppers, prairie fires, blizzards and drought. Most left after acquiring full land title (generally five years). A number settled in market towns along the two railroads that crossed the state and where they operated general stores.
By 1889 the country's growing railroad industry lured people to the eastern community of Grand Forks. A permanent congregation was established in 1892. It was from the pulpit of B'nai Israel Synagogue that President William McKinley urged the Jews to participate in the war with Spain. The city of Fargo also grew near the turn of the century and by 1896 a synagogue was chartered there. The Jews of North Dakota are engaged mainly in retailing. A few, such as Fargo Mayor Herschel Lashkowitz, and Federal Judge Myron Bright, distinguished themselves in politics.
Jews also settled in larger towns such as Fargo, Grand Forks, Bismarck, and Minot where they established synagogues and other elements of Jewish communal life. They have also been included in civic life. One rabbi in particular deserves mention: Benjamin Papermaster was sent to North Dakota by the Chief Rabbi of the Kovno Yeshiva, serving in Grand Forks from 1891 to 1934. He was also the circuit-riding rabbi for the state, circumcising babies, officiating at weddings and funerals, and even slaughtering cattle. Today, Fargo and Grand Forks rely on student rabbis. In the 1960s the Jewish population of Fargo was some 500 people; it has declined as young people leave and do not return.
As of 2013, North Dakota's Jewish population was approximately 400 people.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.