I spent the first 14 years of my life in Devils Lake, North Dakota, population about 6,000.
Until my brother was born, I was the only Jewish child in town. There were enough adults to gather a minyan for a Yahrzeit. No one kept kosher any longer.
My parents wanted me to have a Jewish education. My Dad claimed that he was the best customer of Behrman House Publishing west of the Mississippi. I had books for every holiday and plenty about Shabbat. When I visited my aunt and uncle in Minot (120 miles away), I’d go to Sunday School. I was once in the Purim play. I had one line, in case something happened and I couldn’t be there.
I had a correspondence with Adeline Fremland, who was a Sunday School teacher at Temple of Aaron. I had the book. She’d send me the lesson which I completed and sent back. It wasn’t the in-person contact that I needed. I was supposed to spend one Shabbat in St. Paul with Adeline’s family and I was so excited. One of her children became ill and I couldn’t go. Such a disappointment.
At about 11, I started going to Fargo about once a month. This entailed a 180-mile train ride on a Saturday afternoon. Friends of my parents, Rose and Irv Lavine, picked me up and I enjoyed the company of Rowene Pikovsky, their niece, who lived with them. Sunday morning the two of us walked to Temple Beth El for Sunday School, then walked home. After lunch, I was driven back to the train depot for the trip home.
When I was considered old enough, I went to Council Camp, near Aitkin, Minn. That involved a train trip from Devils Lake to Minneapolis. I stayed with my Aunt, Uncle and cousins, Sam, Lorraine, Susan and Cindy Shark, perhaps a day or two before it was time to leave for camp. Uncle Sam to me to the Emmanuel Cohen Center on the North Side and said goodbye. I loved everything about camp, especially that there were so many Jewish kids together. The fact that it rained and rained didn’t bother me! When it was time to leave, the county road was flooded so they kept us another day. The buses still couldn’t come into the camp, so we were carried out by tractor-pulled trailers.
The next three years I went to Herzl Camp for three-week sessions. I learned so much — services, chugim (activities), songs — and made many friendships that lasted for years. I credit these camp experiences for being the basis of my Jewish education.
The Rabbi at Temple Beth El encouraged my parents to consider moving to Fargo so that I and my three siblings could get a decent Jewish education. My Dad bought another men’s clothing store and we moved the summer before my sophomore year in high school. I was thrilled to have about a half dozen Jewish kids in my class. I was tutored for a year in Hebrew so that I could be confirmed (long-distance Bat Mitzvah training didn’t work) and then I joined the fourth graders in Hebrew class. I became very active in the Youth Group. The first year in Fargo was very difficult socially and my parents thought I’d try to walk back to Devils Lake if I could. By my junior year, I’d made plenty of friends, in addition to the Jewish kids I knew from my monthly visits to Fargo before we moved.
Now I’ve belonged to Adath for more than 55 years and I’ve continued my Jewish learning. I’ve read Torah since my oldest son, Ben’s Bar Mitzvah, and learned to read Haftara as well. Somewhat starved for Jewish learning as a child, I continue my journey that really began at summer camp.