I most recently attended an elaborate and impressive Bat Mitzvah. That prompted my daughter to ask about my Bar Mitzvah almost 70 years ago in Minot, North Dakota. At its height during the early ’40s the congregation numbered about 40 families. This year a devastating flood, the worst in 130 years, destroyed over 4,000 homes, including the area where most Jewish families lived during the height of the community. The beautiful synagogue was sold within the last five years. Fortunately, the cemetery was not destroyed with the flood.
My daughter asked about the services, the attendees, gifts, etc. While I received the usual gifts for the times, such as pens, shirts, books, war bonds, and so forth, I only recall two gifts: A bible from the rabbi and a pair of Fruit of the Loom shorts from a poor family who operated a small store. Humorous? Perhaps, but I recall that the family came from a small town, Killdeer, whose claim to fame was that it was the site of the only Indian battle during the Indian Wars in what was to become North Dakota. Times were hard, and the facts became embedded in my memory. With little to give, they still shared in the community. I feel good that the gesture was not forgotten.
A few years ago I spoke to a remaining member, and he remarked that the son of that poor family is now a successful businessman back east who came to Minot to reminisce. I am proud that life has been fortunate for him, rising from that struggling era. I am most pleased.