A Jewish community is inaugurated in the gold camp at Republic on June 2, 1898.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 6/14/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9054
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On June 2, 1898, M. H. Joseph arrives in Republic, located in Ferry County in North Central Washington. Joseph arrives along with another Jewish man, Simon Bazinski, and they begin what will eventually become a significant Jewish presence in this remote gold mining town. Other Jewish families, lured by ads in Yiddish newspapers, arrive over the next 12 years. Later a colony of Jewish farmers will arrive from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, and found a cooperative agricultural community. The Jewish presence in Republic will have dissipated by 1936.

Merchants to Gold Miners

The gold-rush town of Republic first attracted Bazinski and Joseph for the same reasons it was attracting thousands in 1898 -- there was gold to be mined and miners to be outfitted. Bazinski started a store called the New York Bazaar, which sold general merchandise. Joseph eventually became the town's justice of the peace. They were joined around 1900 by Charles Abraham Greenberg (d. 1936), who eventually lured many Jewish families to Republic.

Greenberg was a Russian Jew who set up a small store on the road to the mines and sold blankets, shoes, and hardware. His enterprise did so well that he was able to bring his wife and children to Republic several years later.

Greenberg became prominent in town and he wanted to bring in more Jewish residents. He wrote letters to Jewish groups and submitted articles and advertisements to Yiddish language newspapers in the United States and Canada. He touted the wonderful prospects and free land available on the former north half of the Colville Reservation.

Mountains and Wind

As many as 25 Jewish families arrived by 1920. Unfortunately conditions were not a rosy as Greenberg had depicted.

"Mother papered the walls with newspapers," said one of those settlers, Mildred Arnsberg Israel. "She carried water from the San Poil Creek. In the spring we had chinook winds strong enough to knock the wash off the line" (Buttnick and Eulenberg).

Many couldn't scratch a living from this mountainous terrain or couldn’t pay off their farm-improvement loans. By 1920, most of them had moved out of Republic.

A second group of Jewish settlers arrived in 1914 from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. They, too, were attracted by the promise of farmland. They bought a shared a piece of property, purchased 100 milk cows and formed the "Ferry County Farming and Stock Raising Company." They even brought their own rabbi from Glace Bay, Rabbi J. Abramowitz.

The rabbi conducted the first High Holiday services in Republic in 1915 and performed Jewish wedding ceremonies. Yet the colony lasted only a year, the victim of land foreclosure.

Greenberg was one of the few Jewish residents who stayed in Republic all of his life. His death in 1936 marked the end of Republic's once substantial Jewish community.

Sources: Meta Buttnick and Julia Niebuhr Eulenberg, "Republic, Washington: A Jewish Settlement in the Small Towns of Washington State, 1898-1936," Western States Jewish History, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Summer 2002).

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