Jews in the Upper Midwest

Jewish settlement in Minnesota and the Dakotas

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The second factor distinguishing the Upper Midwestern Jewish settlement pattern from the one prevailing on the East Coast was that some Jews chose to become homesteaders. Land ownership, which appealed to poor and unskilled men, denoted not only freedom but also a more ennobling life. Craney Goldman Bellin, whose family left Beresenova, a town near Odessa, in 1905 to settle near Williston, North Dakota, recalled that one of the reasons her father decided to homestead was that a customer in Russia had called him a parasite--for, as a shopkeeper, he produced nothing. Other Jews tried farming because they had grown up in semirural environments in Russia and hated the taste they had gotten of American big-city life.

They were able to satisfy this urge to try farming because home­stead land was still available in the Dakotas as late as 1910, although by then the remaining acreage was of marginal productivity. Between 1882 and 1910, about 1,000 Jews filed homestead claims in North and South Dakota.

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Linda M. Schloff

Linda Mack Schloff is director of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest, St. Paul.