Does Alaska Need a Jewish Museum for the "Frozen Chosen"?
Above - Nudnik of the North transplant Joel Fleischman gets his Christmas on and loses his Jewish identity in Alaska.
Alaska has close to 700,000 population total. The biggest minority is Native American, at about 15%. The largest non-native ethnic group is composed of white German-Americans. Jews number from 3000 to 6000, depending on whom you believe. The estimate of the Muslim population is about the same.
The largest figure, 6000, is less than 1% of Alaskan residents. So why did the state of Alaska see fit to spend over 800K on a Jewish museum?
Oddly, this project started at about the same time Sarah Palin, former Alaska state governor, became known in the media as John McCain's presidential running mate. Palin has Lithuianian Jewish heritage and is a strong supporter of Israel. An Israeli flag was often seen in photographs of Palin in the governor's office.
The tv show about life in Alaska, Northern Exposure, has been studied, believe it or not, for its impact on "Jewish Identity".
One article states: According to the only existing demographic study of Alaskan Jews, done by Brandeis professor Bernard Reisman in 1995, only 6% of the almost 3,000 Jews in Alaska were born in the state. The typical (and not entirely misleading) image of the Alaskan Jew comes from Joel Fleischman, the young Jewish doctor and main character on the television show “Northern Exposure,” who was stationed in the small arctic town of Cicely.
To get an idea of just how Jewish the series Northern Exposure, like most American televsion is, read this excerpt from Over the Top Judaism by Elliot Gertel.
From a review of the 2007 novel, The Yiddish Policeman's Union, by Michael Chabon: "Apparently, Alaska was (fleetingly) proposed as a place where Holocaust survivors might build a new life... In his version, the Arabs defeat the Jews and the bulk of Europe's Jewish survivors establish a Yiddish-speaking sub-country in sections of Alaska they wrest from the indigenous population."
The question remains: Why are the Zionists so interested in Alaska? The article below indicates that the Jewish population of Alaska is rapidly expanding.
Below from: http://www.jewishpress.com/content.cfm?contentid=21993
June 27, 2007
Anchorage - Chicago philanthropist Rabbi Morris Esformes has pledged to sponsor two new historic landmarks: the Alaska Jewish Historical Museum and Community Center, and a separate facility for the synagogue, preschool, and future day school of the Lubavitch Center of Alaska.
The pledge was made during a welcoming reception and dinner for Esformes at the Lubavitch Jewish Center of Alaska, an event led by Lubavitch Center director Rabbi Yosef Greenberg; Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich; State House of Representatives Speaker John Harris; former Anchorage mayor, Rick Mystrom; and renowned founding Alaskan Jewish community members, David and Shani Green.
The Alaska Jewish Museum was conceived several years ago by a group recognizing the need to expose Alaskans to Jewish history, culture and the significant Jewish contribution to the state, to the U.S. and to society as a whole. Efforts began in 2004.
During the last three years, fundraising efforts led by Shani Green and Liz Ashlock have brought together the entire community in the spirit of love and unity and have raised over $750,000. Additionally, the state of Alaska approved a generous $850,000 grant towards the project.
But despite this, the project was under-funded. Enter Chicago philanthropist Rabbi Morris Esformes, known for his generosity towards educational and humanitarian institutions across the globe, and for his support of small Jewish communities around America. "Every child should have the opportunity to receive some form of Jewish education," Esformes says.
Toward this end, Esformes has been involved in establishing Jewish community centers, preschools, Talmud Torahs, Sunday schools and Jewish day schools across America, such as the multifaceted Esformes Jewish Community Center in Daytona Beach that he is building with the local leadership of Rabbi Pinchas and Chani Ezagui. That's why David and Shani Green asked Rabbi Esformes for his assistance.
Esformes responded by visiting Alaska on June 4 with his long-time associate, Rabbi Gerry Rosenberg, and was pleasantly surprised by a welcoming committee of over 70 Camp Gan Israel children at the airport. Esformes then joined a special reception meeting with government and Jewish leaders to receive a report on the success and growth of Anchorage's Jewish presence.
From a few families already present upon their arrival 16 years ago, Rabbi and Mrs. Greenberg today serve over 250 families with day camping, chinuch, regular minyanim and Alaska's only mikvah. The Lubavitch Center also stages the Chanukah Arts Festival, which is attended yearly by Alaska's political leadership and over 1,000 people, and also provides regular adult Torah classes and even Jewish tourism services.
Rabbi Esformes was inspired by the achievements of a vibrant community far from major Jewish population centers. "We must make sure that everyone in the world knows of this," he said, also expressing appreciation for the unity among all Alaskans in the creation of the Alaska Jewish Museum and the bipartisan goodwill of Alaska's elected officials. "This small-town American spirit of love and community should truly serve as a model for all America," said Esformes. "It is a great honor for me to be involved."
Alaska's Jewish history recently received national recognition due to a popular novel imagining a huge Jewish community in Sitka, Alaska. In reality, however, Alaska is home to just 6,000 Jews, who mostly reside in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau and small pockets elsewhere. Nevertheless, Jews have made a large contribution to Alaska, from the early Jewish fur traders of San Francisco who pushed for the purchase of the Russian territory to the first Jewish mayors of Anchorage and Fairbanks and the Jewish gold rush pioneers at the turn of the century.
The Alaska Jewish Museum will also educate America's public on Alaska's little-known connections to Israel, including Alaska Airlines's role in Operation Magic Carpet and young Alaskan sailor Jack Johnson, who served on the ship Exodus during its 1947 smuggling of Holocaust survivors to the Holy Land.
In the same vein, the Lubavitch Center's upcoming annual dinner, to be held in November, will honor the ship's legendary captain, Mr. Yitzchak "Ike" Aharonovitch, who will be visiting Alaska for the event. The following year's dinner, scheduled for November of 2008, will mark the 60th year since Alaska Airlines' critical role in Operation Magic Carpet.
Alaskans and out-of-town visitors alike are looking forward to the completion of the Alaska Jewish Museum and its exhibits, which will bring the community together and serve as a non-sectarian catalyst for exploring the diversity of Alaska's many cultures.
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