Saturday, December 13, 2008

USA: Wisconsin Small Jewish Communities History Project

Former Temple Zion, Appleton Wisconsin. Photo from Wisconsin Small Jewish Community Project

Webwatch: Wisconsin (USA) Small Jewish Communities

Reader Diana Muir has sent me a link to the Wisconsin Small Jewish Community Project established in 2001 by the Wisconsin Society for Jewish Learning to "research, preserve, and educate the Jewish and general public about the history of Wisconsin Jewish communities" You can find on the website a database with information about Jewish communities (past and present) throughout Wisconsin, an read a history of Wisconsin's Jews.

There is mention of several synagogues, though not yet much information on the history of the planning, design and architecture of the structures, or of their subsequent histories. A few current restoration projects are mentioned, such as that of the former Temple Zion in Appleton (shown above) which was begin restored in 2005
by the owner, WahlOrgan builders.

Temple Zion, 320 N. Durkee was the synagogue of Appleton's German Jewish - and ultimately Reform Jewish - community. It opened in 1883 with a small school building next door, and the synagogue served the community through the 1920s. The building is reported to be undergoing restored (presumably now finished?) to its original condition and colors.

Appleton had a thriving Jewish community in the 19th century.

Harry Houdini (1874-1926) was the son of the community's first rabbi, Hungarian-born Mayer Samuel Weiss. The Houdinis lived in Appleton from 1874 until 1883, when the rabbi was fired because he couldn't preach in English. Houdini, born Ehrich Weiss in Budapest, often claimed Appleton as his birthplace.

Novelist and playwright Edna Ferber (1885-1968) came at age 12 to Appleton with her family. Her father owned the My Store general store. Ferber began her writing career as a teenage newspaper reporter at the Appleton Crescent (Her 1904 interview with a visiting Houdini is posted on the web site

During a stint at the Milwaukee Journal, Ferber collapsed from exhaustion. She returned to Appleton and wrote her first short story and first novel. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924 for the novel "So Big." Her 1939 autobiography "My Peculiar Treasure" recalls Appleton's prominent German Jewish community and her experiences in the choir of Temple Zion.

I can not find the town or synagogue of Stevens Point on the database, however. Readers of the ISJM E-Report may remember my notices of the restoration of that synagogue as a museum last June (just before I started this blog). You can read about it here.

No comments: