My Trip To North Dakota

“What did you say? Uh, why are you going there?”

This past week, we traveled to an unlikely vacation spot, North Dakota. No, we didn’t have any relatives there and it isn’t a popular vacation spot. We went because my husband had this goal many, many years ago to go to all 50 states, and he found out that many people go to North Dakota as their last state. We both wondered what the welcome center would do when you told them North Dakota was your 50th state. Would there be a party or something special?

When you go to Fargo, you can visit the Roger Maris museum. Roger Maris grew up in Fargo. On display in the museum are copies of newspaper and magazine articles about Roger Maris and his trophies and crowns. He played for the New York Yankees and for the St. Louis Cardinals, and was famous for hitting 61 home runs in 1961, which broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record. There is also a video about his life. It was interesting to learn that he was a humble person and that his good midos endeared him to his teammates.

You can also hike around the Red River, which divides Minnesota and North Dakota. On one side you are in Moorehead, Minnesota, and on the other side you’re in North Dakota.

The weather is generally cooler and pleasant, which can be a nice break from New York’s heat and humidity.

There is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which is so vast you can be in two different time zones if you drive through. One part of the park is on Central Time and the other part is on Mountain Time. Theodore Roosevelt used to visit North Dakota, and when he became president, he set aside lands to become national parks. There are interesting stories about Theodore Roosevelt and his adventures in North Dakota. Before he was president, he was sheriff of the area and one time some horse thieves stole his boat. It was winter and he and three other men set to work building a new boat. He believed in pursuing justice. They waited out a raging blizzard and then he led his helpers on the new boat down the Little Missouri River in pursuit of the thieves. They eventually caught up with them and they took them back with them on the boat to be tried.

The Theodore Roosevelt National Park boasts herds of roaming bison (It’s amazing that they eat a plant-based diet of prairie grass, and yet are so huge). There are also prairie dogs (little gray animals that go up on their hind feet), beautiful fluttering yellow butterflies, tons of grasshoppers, and also wild horses. The prairie grass undulates for miles in graceful waves. The skies are wide over the prairie land. There are also buttes in the park, which are huge rocky hills formed by erosion from the Little Missouri River. The park has many hiking trails bordered by prairie grass, and The Little Missouri River runs through the park. There are warning signs about rattle snakes, as well.

The closest place for a Shabbos minyan was Winnipeg which is a city in Manitoba, a province in Canada. Besides a Chabad minyan, the only Orthodox shul in Winnipeg was Adas Yeshurun Herzlia and the rabbi is Rabbi Yosef Benarroch. The shul is warm and welcoming. There is a communal s’udah sh’lishis. Rabbi Benarroch shared that he grew up in Winnipeg and his father came there in 1963 to be a shochet. At that time, there were 19 shuls in Winnipeg.

General Fargo History

The first people to settle in Fargo, North Dakota, came in 1871. They staked their claims where the Northern Pacific Railroad would cross the Red River. The city was named for William G. Fargo, a director of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and co-founder of Wells Fargo Express Company. In 1876, Fargo’s population was only 600. More people came to Fargo in pursuit of affordable fertile farmland in the Red River Valley. By 1892, Fargo had grown to a city with a population of more than 8,000.

History of the Jewish Community in Fargo

Many Jews settled in Fargo in 1889 as the railroad industry grew. Some well-known Jews included Rabbi Benjamin Papermaster, who was sent to North Dakota by the Chief Rabbi of the Kovno yeshivah, and he served there from 1891 until 1934. He was the circuit-riding rabbi for the state. He also acted as mohel and shochet. By the 1960s, the Jewish population was 500. Today it has declined as young people have moved away.

Also, in 1937, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l traveled out west to fundraise for the Kovno yeshivah. Interestingly, he ended up in Fargo, North Dakota, for Yom Kippur that year.

Another prominent Fargo resident was Mr. Herman Stern. He was a Jewish Fargo businessman and civic leader who rescued between 100 and 125 Jews from Germany and Austria between the years of 1933 and 1941. Stern was a German immigrant and he worked in a partnership with North Dakota Sen. Gerald Nye, who was a member of the America First Committee.

On May 21, 2017, Gov. Doug Burgum declared Jewish Homesteaders Day in North Dakota, and that same day, the historic Jewish cemetery in Ashley, North Dakota – which contains gravestones of Russian-Jewish homesteaders – was rededicated.

Papermaster’s great-grandson, Rabbi Shalom Orenstein, helped conduct research for the Jewish North Dakota exhibit. The standing-room-only crowd of about 150 also included Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, aides of both Senator John Hoeven and Representative Kevin Cramer, and Concordia College President William J. Craft.

Back to the Present

We found out that when you tell the people in the Welcome Center in Fargo that North Dakota is your 50th state, you are automatically enrolled in the “Save the Best for Last Club” and you receive a T-shirt that has that slogan and a certificate. It is an exciting moment! There are around 5,000 members of this club and the Welcome Center representative shared that, in the summer, five to ten people come to the North Dakota Welcome Center to claim their Save the Best for Last Club membership.

This writer spoke to one of the women who works at the Welcome Center and asked her what it was like growing up in North Dakota.

She shared that, in the winter, the snow covers the buildings and she and her friends used to slide down the buildings.

I felt cold just thinking about winter there. We explored Fargo, a main city in North Dakota. There was a main street with many small shops.

It was definitely an interesting and exciting experience to see Fargo and to visit North Dakota.

I am glad we did it in the summer and not in the winter!

 By Susie Garber

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