04 July 2007

Alaska: A Jewish museum

Alaska's tiny Jewish community, according to a Jerusalem Post article, numbers about 3,000-5,000 and most live in the largest city, Anchorage. The whole state's population is about the same as Tel Aviv.

Now an Alaska Jewish Historical Museum is being planned, and is expected to attract interest from the state's residents and an annual 2 million tourists.

Among famous Jewish residents were Jay Rabinowitz, "the beloved, influential late chief justice of Alaska's Supreme Court," and Anchorage's first mayor Leopold David.

Some of the earliest Jews were Russian fur traders, and San Francisco traders were among the first to think up the idea of acquiring Alaska from Russia.

The museum's exhibits will include one about Alaska Airlines's participation in bringing some 40,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel after the declaration of the state in 1948. "Alaska Airline pilots were bush pilots from the war," the Russian-born Israel-raised Greenberg said. "They were tough, flew in the worst conditions and worst places. So they could fly even under the danger of being shot at. They were looking for charters, for business, and one flight turned into many flights to bring all those people to Israel."

The Chabad rabbi in Anchorage, Yosef Greenberg, is one of two rabbis (and three congregations) in Alaska. He came up with the museum concept, which will open in 2009, as part of a Lubavitch Center, housing a pre-school, Hebrew school and synagogue.

The museum will cost an estimated $5 million, of which $850,000 was given by the state after the local community raised about $750,000. A Chicago philanthropist pledged half the balance..

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