Early Boiseans held Jews in high esteem

Boise businessman and community leader Nathan Falk, a brother of David Falk, with his large family.
Boise businessman and community leader Nathan Falk, a brother of David Falk, with his large family. Provided by Arthur Hart

“Boise has reason to be proud of her citizens of this old Hebrew stock, as they have ever been among the foremost in every enterprise and good work having for its object the building up of the city and the welfare of its people. The 10th day after this Jewish New Year’s day will be the Day of Atonement, which will also be duly observed here.” This item from the Idaho Daily Statesman appeared on Sept. 26, 1889, but the paper had regularly noted Jewish holidays since the 1860s and explained for its readers as best it could their significance.

In October 1865, for example: “The Day of Atonement — This sacred fast was religiously observed last Saturday by all of the Israelitish persuasion in the city. All their places of business were closed, and appropriate services were held at which nearly all the residents of Hebrew descent attended, as well as several strangers who happened to be in town. We understand that Mr. Baer officiated with credit to himself and pleasure to the faithful assembled.”

In April 1869, “The Israelites of this city conceived the idea a short time since to have a cemetery of their own, and accordingly they held a meeting this week and raised the necessary funds. The site is not far from the Fort Boise cemetery. The survey was made yesterday, and the ground will be neatly enclosed this week.” Yom Kippur, the Jewish New Year, was celebrated that year in Boise’s Masonic Hall. In other years, before they had a synagogue of their own, the Jews met for worship in the city’s Odd Fellows’ Hall.

In the absence of a rabbi of their own, Boise’s Jews had to bring in rabbis from other

Western cities to perform sacred rites. In November 1871, the Rite of Circumcision was performed on the son of David Falk by Rabbi Bories from Portland. “The novel and interesting ceremony was witnessed by a number of invited guests. We acknowledge the receipt of the compliments of the happy parents.”

In February 1875, “Rev. H. Lowenbourg, a Rabbi of high standing in the Jewish church, arrived here by Saturday night’s stage. He performed the rite of circumcision on Mr. Falk’s youngest boy Monday and will circumcise Mr. Weil’s twin boys today (Tuesday) and also Mr. Spiegel’s son Wednesday.”

In May 1875, David Falk took his young family to Europe. On their return to Boise, the Statesman prattled, “They have visited all the important cities, have stood by the classic Rhine, have climbed the famous Alps and indeed viewed most of the wonders of the old world. On their return they visited the accumulated offerings of the world at the Philadelphia Centennial, yet they are pleased and charmed and happy to be again domiciled in their home in the mountains of Idaho. The many friends of Mr. Falk and family take great pleasure in welcoming them to this — the fairest city in the mountains.”

In October 1875, the Statesman described the meaning of the Day of Atonement: “To the Hebrew the Day of Atonement (which commenced at sunset last evening and lasts until sunset this evening) is the holiest of days. It is founded upon two premises — the weakness and the power of man; upon sinfulness, to which every man, in the course of the year, becomes more or less subject; and upon his godlike higher nature, by means of which he is enabled to arrive at the consciousness of his shortcomings and, through his own strength to elevate, purify, and free himself from all sins. But, extraordinary means are required for that purpose; and strict observers of the Jewish faith abstain today from all worldly occupations and physical employment as well as from food and drink of all kinds. The stores which are closed on account of this holy day will reopen this evening at sundown.”

Boise’s Jewish merchants took space in the Statesman with this announcement: “Owing to the Jewish holidays our stores will be closed Monday, Sept. 11, 1893. Shainwald Bros. Co. Ltd., The Falk-Bloch Merc. Co. Ltd., H. Seller & Co., George Spiegel. Leo P. Grunbaum, and L. Weil.” Not listed is Moses Alexander, who had opened a clothing store in Boise in 1891 and would go on to make American political history. More about this remarkable man next week.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@gmail.com.