President’s October 2017 Column

L’shanah tovah! I wish for everyone happiness and good health in the new year 5778.

We’re kicking off October with our annual Sukkah building this Sunday morning October 1st at 10 am! All are welcome to help build and decorate during Religious School.

A couple other event highlights this month include a special Simchat Torah service on October 11th, as well as Family Shabbat on October 20th. Family Shabbat will be held at 6:30 pm, an hour earlier than normal Friday night services; families with young kids are especially encouraged to join us at this service!

I was recently reading an article in The Gazette, which opened my eyes on how the Jews of our community have impacted Cedar Rapids.Though we make a difference every day in our community by doing our best as doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, teachers, leaders, scientists, engineers, and many other roles, I was not aware of the impact made by one particular Jew, even before any synagogue was established in the city.

The September 9th article titled, “How May’s Island got its name, place in Cedar Rapids history”, described how one of our own Jews helped to make the island what it is today. Though John May surveyed the island and dreamed of it’s potential for businesses and residences, it was a Jewish Russian immigrant, Henry Smulekoff, who actually made it happen. The island was once a swamp, frequently flooded with no permanent buildings established. Smulekoff learned English and saved up money to buy a small shop to sell furniture on the island in 1889. As his business grew and expanded to several plots, he later sold the island to the City of Cedar Rapids. If it weren’t for him, May’s Island would likely appear very differently today.

The first synagogue in Cedar Rapids, an Orthodox synagogue called Beth Jacob, wasn’t established until 1906, almost two decades after Smulekoff took a chance on the island. A few dozen families, mostly Polish and Russian immigrants, made up this congregation and included the Smulekoff family. Eventually, Temple Judah was formed from congregants at Beth Jacob who wanted a more liberal service. It is amazing how our own Jewish community’s history is so intertwined with our city’s history!