Jewish heritage remembered

Published Monday, July 25, 2005 12:06:39 PM Central Time
Ironwood Daily Globe


Globe Staff Writer

HURLEY -- One man's journey to find his roots will culminate in a special program this weekend celebrating Hurley's former Jewish community.

Dr. Stephen Heifetz, a cardiologist from the Minneapolis area, knew only that his mother thought her father had been raised in Hurley until he and his wife took a side trip -- on a "lark," he says -- during a vacation to Door County, Wis.

In the 23 hours he spent in Hurley, he discovered roots that took him back three generations and learned that his great-grandfather served as rabbi here for 25 years.

The History

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, significant numbers of Jewish families, mostly from Lithuania, became local merchants in new mining towns. Friends and families followed the successful entrepreneurs, and soon there were sufficient numbers of Jewish citizens to warrant building a synagogue.

The Sharey Zedek Synagogue was constructed in 1895 and was used for religious purposes until 1939. In 1940, the building was converted to apartments. It can still be seen, minus the onion dome that once graced its roof, at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Division Street in Hurley.

Rediscovering the Past

Heifetz began his search for his Hurley ancestors in 2002, when his mother told him his grandfather, who had died when Heifetz was only 1 year old, was a graduate of Hurley High School. With that information, Heifetz and his wife came to Hurley.

Arriving one summer evening, they started with a visit to the Sharey Zedek Cemetery, "in a corner (of Hurley Cemetery) fenced off with some stone and timber and marked by a rusty gate." There they found a "very old tombstone," marking the grave of his great-grandmother, Fanny Rein, who died in 1917.

From there they searched further. Aided by county records and Iron County Register of Deeds Bob Traczyk, they found information about Fanny's mother, Miriam M. Feinberg, and Miriam's father, Sholem Meirowitz, Heifetz's great-great-great-grandfather.

"Certain we had exhausted all the information available on my family, we went to the Iron County Historical Museum," Heifetz says on his website ( There they had another surprise when they found "two old sepia-type photographs of a woman and a man. The woman was Fanny Rein and the man, Rabbi Moses Rein."

The Synagogue

Heifetz also found a deed at the courthouse dating to 1897 for a house at 201 Copper St., which Traczyk said was adjacent to the old synagogue. Traczyk and Hurley attorney Paul Sturgul had been talking about Hurley history one day.

"I told him there had been a synagogue and you could see it from my office," Sturgul said.

Heifetz asked about artifacts from the synagogue.

"I told him I doubted there would be any because the temple closed in 1940. Then I learned after the synagogue closed, they worshiped in Kaleva Hall in Ironwood for High Holy Days, weddings, et cetera," says Sturgul who has since become friends with Heifetz.

In 1946, the Jewish community reorganized and built Temple Beth El in Ironwood. It was used until 1967, but some of the religious articles had remained at Kaleva Hall. When the hall was torn down, with their true value unknown, they passed from person to person, according to Sturgul.

After a story about Heifetz was published locally, an antique dealer on the Gogebic Range who had acquired the items remembered the trunk he had stored in Iron Belt, Wis.

The box contained clothes with six-pointed stars and strange lettering that he thought were Finnish prayer rugs. When he realized they were Torah covers and ornaments from the old synagogue, he offered to sell them to Sturgul or Heifetz, who agreed the articles -- a Torah scroll, prayer shawls and wedding canopy, among others -- should find a home in Hurley.

Heifetz first used the Torah cover for his son's Bar Mitzvah in Minneapolis last August. Adam Heifetz "would be the fifth generation to have used that Torah cover," according to Stephen Heifetz.

Dedicating the Past

Heifetz and Sturgul bought the artifacts, and Heifetz has since made a display case for them. They were on display at a Minneapolis museum last winter.

On Saturday, they will be dedicated for permanent residence at the Iron County Historical Museum. The ceremony promises to draw many Jewish visitors, including the family of Hyman Mark, a well-known Hurley businessman who served as a state legislator in the 1920s.

Speakers, in addition to Heifetz and Sturgul, will include Wisconsin State Rep. Gary Sherman, D-Port Wing, and Andrew Muchin, a journalist from Milwaukee who will talk about Hurley in relation to the Jewish settlement in the Upper Great Lakes region.

The Rev. Michael Hayden of St. Mary's Catholic Church will represent the Gogebic Range Clergy Association.

Heifetz will offer a PowerPoint presentation and present the display case containing items from the synagogue to the museum for permanent display. A reception, hosted by historical society members, will be held after the program.

Marking the Synagogue

Rabbi Norman Lewison of Chicago will be the main speaker for Sunday's dedication at the site of the former synagogue, on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Division Street.

Lewison was a longtime friend of Nell Ziff Pekarsky, a Hurley native and graduate of Hurley High School's class of 1925. Pekarsky later served as president of the National Junior Hadassah, the American Women's Zionist Association.

The events, including a reception at the senior center in Hurley which after the marker ceremony, are open to the public.

Diane Alexandroni Fluhr will cook a meal that will be free for all. Jerry Woolpy of Minocqua will be the kosher consultant for the meal.

The reception is sponsored by the historical society, with assistance of St. Mary's Catholic Women's Council.