Continuing the search for hidden genealogy treasures:
Iowa Jewish Historical Society
Caspe Heritage Gallery
Martin Bucksbaum Fine Arts Wing at The Caspe Terrace
33158 Ute Avenue
Waukee, Iowa 50263
Phone 515-987-0899, ext. 216
I had an appointment and, though early, I received a very gracious welcome by several staff members. These included the Executive Director, a Board Member, the Collections Specialist and the Technology and Education Support Specialist. Following introductions I was encouraged to take my time browsing through the exhibits.
Oh, my! This facility is awesome. The exhibits are logically arranged and easy to read and understand. The society boasts a collection of over 10,000 artifacts representing lives of Jewish Iowans and is constantly seeking more family stories and memorabilia. I was impressed with the quality of the exhibits and the professionalism of the staff. It is obvious the society understands the importance of preserving their history for future generations.
The historical society organized in 1996 and the museum was begun in 2003.
The Iowa Jewish story begins in 1833 when Alexander Levi, born in France, arrived in Iowa and opened a grocery store. In 1837 he travelled with others to St. Louis and became the first naturalized citizen of the Iowa territory. The exhibit begins with Alexander’s genealogy and story of his great vision.
Three waves of American Jewish immigration: mid-1600s, 1830-1840, and 1880 onwards are identified; only the latter two apply to Iowa immigrants.
I was captivated by the stories of specific people, such as the story of Irvin, Phyllis and Celina Karp who were fortunate to work in Schindler’s factory. Phyllis brought with her to America a ceramic cup from the factory saying, “This will remind me, every day, that there is a better tomorrow.”
Child of Our Time – A Young Girl’s Flight from the Holocaust was written by Ruth L. David. This book tells of being separated from her parents and placed on a train to Great Britain. Here she lived in a hostel with other frightened children who did not speak English and whose caregivers were not always caring. Ruth now lives in Ames, Iowa.
Another exhibit tells the love story of Rose Waldman and Jacob Szneler who were liberated from one of the Nazi death camps, met and married in 1946 in a refugee camp and resettled in Des Moines in 1950.
Many immigrants arrived in central Iowa in the early 1900s and immediately after World War I. Many names of these immigrants are recognized by central Iowans. In 1954 Martin Bucksbaum and his brother Matthew started General Development which grew into General Growth Properties, shopping mall developers. Harry Bookey started a meat packing plant. A. H. and Anna Blank founded Blank Children’s Hospital in memory of their son Raymond; they also made major contributions to Mitigwa Boy Scout Camp, the Blank Park Zoo, the Des Moines Art Center, Drake University, the University of Iowa and the Science Center of Iowa. In the 1930s Myron Blank realized that movie goers would purchase popcorn to snack on, then would become thirsty and purchase beverages. Well-known businesses founded by Jewish members of the Des Moines area include Greenberg’s Jewelry, Banker’s Trust, Iowa Sheet Metal, Suzette Candies, Weinberg Furs, Frankel’s Clothing, Younker Brothers Department Store and Whylie Eye Care.
I also recognized the names of some doctors highlighted in the exhibit including Dr. Sinesio Misol, Dr. Marvin Dubansky, Dr. Joshua Kimelman, and Dr. Albert Mintzer (who delivered all three of our sons). The exhibit explains that many Jewish people pursue a career in medicine because they 1) want to preserve and maintain life, 2) seek physical and moral purity, 3) perceive learning as a high value and closeness to God, 4) have a right and duty to see a doctor, and 5) see this as a means to reach middle class status.
As I was looking at one of the exhibits an article from The Greater Des Moines Jewish Press referenced Dr. Henry Corn and the IJHS Oral History Project. The “oral history” part caught my eye. I asked about this project. By coincidence the staff was working that day on a first-step project to inventory their oral history collection, as they recognize its family and historical value. They have many boxes with perhaps 500 tapes and transcripts, but they currently are not available to a researcher because nothing is organized. The eventual goal is to preserve, digitize and make the collection available. This collection is part of the genealogical treasure at this museum, but patience to allow the staff time to process is critical.
Before I left, the group told me that a representative from the Iowa Genealogical Society is going to teach an upcoming genealogy class at the museum and I was invited to come. I know the instructor and know she will do a very good job. I will attend if possible.
Visiting this museum is a memorable experience and your life will be richer for it.