From the Sheboygan Press Friday, August 27, 1999, Page C1 and C2
Presented here by the courtesy of the Sheboygan Press
Press photo by Gary C. Klein
Welcome to Sheboygan
'FAMILY' OF BETH EL SYNAGOGUE CELEBRATES 100 YEARS OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY IN SHEBOYGAN
By Nancy Pieper of The Press Staff
It was a unique gathering.
Belle Holman of Skokie, Ill., probably summed it up best when she said, "People have family reunions, but how many people have a reunion for all the families from one city?"
That's what happened at Beth El Synagogue in Sheboygan this past weekend.
Members, former members and descendants of anyone who had at some time been a part of Congregation Beth El were invited to a reunion.
Harold Holman, president of Congregation Beth El, welcomes those attending the reunion.
Congregation president, Harold Holman said, "What are we really doing here? We're here celebrating 100 years of the Jewish community of Sheboygan."
About 225 people from all over the United States [and Israel] attended.
Some grew up here. Others had never lived in Sheboygan, though their parents or grandparents had.
Among those responding to the invitation posted on the Internet were Yvonne Kristal Stephan of Louisiana and her sister, Etta Kristal Levine of New York.
Their mother was born in Sheboygan.
Said Yvonne,"We came looking for our roots."
"And we found some links to family we didn't know we had," said Etta.
Among them, a cousin from California whom the sisters had never met before.
These are the descendants of immigrants, many from Lithuania, (Litvaks) who found a home in Sheboygan as part of a wave of immigration that took place from the 1880s to about 1920.
Reunion speaker, L. Elliot Lipschultz of Northfield, Ill., who has studied patterns of immigration, said one impetus for the "gold rush" to the Midwest was the vast forest that covered Michigan and Wisconsin - enough lumber, he said, to "...pave the roads with wood an inch thick from New York to San Francisco. That's what drew our ancestors here."
Sheboygan's Jewish immigrants included the Alperts and Aronins and Holmans and Lockes and Miringoffs and Wassermans and Petashnicks - looking, all of them, for a better life.
Boruck [Baruch] "Benjamin" Blachman was among them.
Leaving behind a pregnant wife and eight children in the Disna area of Russia, he arrived in Sheboygan in 1913.
Taken in by relatives, he worked at the Holman Overall Factory until he saved enough money to send for his family.
A 1913 photograph shows the young mother and her now nine children in Russia. A written caption said all the children were dressed in borrowed clothes for the picture.
As members of what was a smal1 religious minority in a Christian society, life, for the earliest immigrants, could be hard.
East Coast resident, Stella Wasserman Schwartz, who grew up in Sheboygan, recalled that her grandmother was the only Jewish child enrolled at the then Horace Mann School.
"She was harassed, but finally one little girl made friends with her and then she got other friends, but she always felt she had to be careful, growing up," said Schwartz.
Later on, of course, the growing Jewish community also provided a social network for its members.
The immigrants worked hard and prospered. And they understood that education was the key to a better life.
Press photo by Gary C. Klein
Joel Alpert, Boston, was among the masters of ceremony at the Beth El reunion.
Joel Alpert of Boston, whose father was born in Sheboygan, was one of the reunion masters of ceremony.
Alpert's great-grandfather [Max Gollman], a sandler in the Russian Army, was 35 years old when he came to Sheboygan in 1904.
"He was a railroad worker and then he worked in a chair factory and eventually collected scrap metal and sold it. My grandfather [John Alpert] was a grocer. My father [William Alpert] was the first in the family to go to college. He participated in the building of the Apollo spacecraft. Quite an achievement for our stock, which was partially extinguished in Europe[ because it was considered by some] as worthless." (during the World War II Holocaust.)
As the Jewish community grew, still retaining its religious heritage, its members intermarried [among eachother ].
In fact, said Alpert, "The whole Sheboygan Beth El congregation is really family in a way, because so many of us are intermarried."
But the success of the children and grandchildren of these once impoverished immigrants has had an unintended and unwelcome effect on Beth El Synagogue.
At its height about 40 years ago, Beth El was the vital heart of spiritual life for about 250 families - nearly 1,000 people.
"But," said Alpert, "as the second and third generations became educated beyond the local job market, they immigrated to larger cities."
Now, Congregation Beth El is a shadow of its former self. The young, for the most part, are gone. Its faithful but aging congregation is dying off. For current member, Al Stessman, the successful reunion was bittersweet. At services this past Saturday the synagogue was full.
Said Stessman, in remarks to a Saturday afternoon gathering, When I came to Sheboygan in 1967, I remember coming to synagogue on High Holidays and finding the synagogue full. Now, where we'll be in five years, we don't know."
"People have family reunions, but how many people have a reunion for all the families from one city?" Belle Holman of Skokie, Ill.
Press photo by Gary C. Klein
Looking at a display of photographs and memorabilia of past and present members of Beth El Synagogue in Sheboygan are Dr. Jack Weinstein of Scottsdale, Ariz., and his daughter, Jamie Golsen, Atlanta, Ga. They were among the more than 200 people from all over the United States [and Israel] who attended a reunion held at Beth El Synagogue this past weekend.
We all had a great time. Here are some photos:
Please send scanned photos to email@example.com and we'll place them on the web.
John Alpert and John Alpert
Bob and Dalia Stein, Lois, John and Richard Alpert
Charlie Alpert, Stella Wasserman Schwartz and Richard Alpert
Mara Alpert, Sonya Alpert, Joel Alpert, Susan Alpert Drazen and Gila Drazen
Karen Alpert Entous, Joel Alpert and Stuart Parker
Rabbi Rettig, Joel Alpert and Harold Holman
Standing: Dalia Stein, Stuart Parker, Dick and Debbie Alpert, Nancy Lefkowitz, Bob Stein, Susan Alpert Drazen, Erv Koppel, Shim Ellis
Sitting in front: Sonya Alpert, Helen Koppel, Phyllis Ellis
Photos by Nancy Lefkowitz
Photo from Steve Bensman
Standing in back and identifiable: Sidra Rothman (girl friend of), Jon Zion, Josh Rosen, Charlotte Zion Rosen, Robert Cope, Bernard Zion, Miriam Bensman (Steve Bensman's wife), Daniel Harris (son of Tobie Zion), Liesl Gruenwald, Margaret Gruenwald Cope.
Sitting in front: Julie Rosen, Abe Rosen.