photos by KJ Graham
BAYLES TORAH RETURNS HOME—During the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the formation of the Nome Hebrew congregation, Dr. Norman Kagan, Michael Silverbook, and James Freidman brought the Torah originally used in Nome Jewish services. Freidman blew the shofar to call a gathering to pray.
by KJ Graham
celebrates 100 years of Jewish history!
photos by KJ Graham
HISTORIC PROCESSION—The Bayles Torah was carried, in accordance with tradition, to the place of celebration. Michael Silverbook of Anchorage carried the Torah from downtown Nome to the East Beach shelter. Doug Veit of Craig, Alaska and others joined in the walk.
Sue Steinacher and KJ Graham
The third week of July brought the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the formation of the Nome Hebrew Congregation as well as a most special visitor. The Bayles Torah, which now has a home at the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Anchorage, returned here to preside again over a gathering of Jewish and friends of Alaskan Jewry on the shores of Nome. A Torah is a large, handwritten scroll on which is painstakingly written without error the first five books of the Bible. The Bayles Torah originally came to Nome with Sam Bayles. It was given to him by his father, Rabbi Afroim Hessel Bayles from Lithuania. Historian Dr. Norman Kagan of Minnesota was instrumental in making the celebration of the centennial anniversary of the most westerly and northern Jewish community ever. Traditionally, a Torah is walked from one home to the next, but Jews are a practical people and so this time the Torah came to Nome Tuesday evening on Alaska Airlines. It had its own seat between Michael Silverbook and Jim Friedman who did the escort. As they disembarked the plane with Silverbook cradling the scroll, Dr. Kagan walked up to join them and the three men together spoke the sacred Shema in Hebrew. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” As it would have been disrespectful to check the Torah as so much baggage, Cussy Kauer thought it would be disrespectful to stuff it into a cab when it arrived. She was there with her red carpet and white stretch limo to drive the Torah to town in style. Jim Freidman blew the Shofar, a ram horn trumpet, as the Torah was lifted into the limo, and the trio was off. Wednesday, July 19, the Bayles Torah was walked from town to the shelter at the East Beach. There, more than a dozen locals and a few tourists joined the visiting Jews and heard the call of the horn and the Shema Yisrael. Mayor Leo Rasmussen expressed his appreciation to the organizers of the historic event. Dr. Kagan spoke of the experiences Jews from Eastern Europe and others had as they joined in the rush for gold. He became interested in the history of Jews in the gold rush while on canoe trips in the Yukon. He heard strands of truth in tall tales told along the Nahanni River and was hooked. He discovered that, as in Dawson, there was a “disproportionate number of Jews among the merchants—mostly Eastern European immigrants who were assisted by Pacific Jewish merchants.” Kagan went on, “Unwilling to relocate, American Jews, who established themselves during the earlier California and British Columbia Gold Rushes, extended credit to their newly arrived brethren who sought a new start.” Dr. Kagan also brought a mezuzah to present to the City. A mezuzah is a small tube which holds a claf, a prayer written on a piece of parchment. They are traditionally affixed to a doorway and are acknowledged by a touch upon entering. The mezuzah given to Nome is a multi-colored one sent from Beth Hatefutsoth, the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora in Israel. The claf inside has its own special story. During Dr. Kagan’s research he came in contact with a woman named Tamara who lives in the Ukraine. She was very interested in learning what became of her great grand uncles who left for Nome at the turn of the century. It seems likely that the men were Boris and Samuel Magids who trapped and traded in this area from 1900 to 1940. In their honor and for any distant relatives she may have here, Tamara sent the claf. The sounds of the ocean, breezy air, and mining activities blending with the prayers that afternoon were just as when Sam Bayles stepped ashore at Nome in June of 1900 with the Torah in his arms. The dispersion of Jews from Russia had come full circle.