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The oldest Jewish congregant of the oldest synagogue reflects on the history of her community and its future

Talk of Iowa, hosted by Charity Nebbe

Iowa history is Jewish history. We talk about how synagogues created space for Iowans to be Jewish in public and how these communities are changing. Then we hear from a quilter bringing her craft to the streaming platform Twitch.

Iowa's Jewish community is far from new. Joanne Satin joined a synagogue in Davenport in 1936 for Kindergarten. Now she's the oldest member of Iowa's oldest Jewish congregation. Satin said the synagogue Temple Emanuel was a chance to meet with other Jewish people in public during a time when anti-Semitic exclusionary policies kept them out of certain places. On this episode of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks to Satin about the struggle to keep the synagogue open in 2021.

Then Jeanette Gabriel, the director of the Schwalb Center for Israel and Jewish Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, talks about her study of the pathways Jewish families took into and out of the “hinterlands” of Iowa. She discusses the compromises some individuals and families made to maintain their Jewish identity in a place that did not always welcome or support it.

“Jewish communities within Iowa were small but vibrant spaces,” Gabriel said. “From Keokuk to Fort Dodge and Muscatine to Sioux City, Jewish families worked hard to build their own institutions while also contributing to the civic and cultural communities where they lived.”

Last we speak with Mary Fons, a quilter and quilting historian who has found a growing audience by streaming her craft on Twitch.

Guests:

  • Joanne Satin, member of Temple Emanuel in Davenport, Iowa
  • Jeanette Gabriel, director of the Schwalb Center for Israel and Jewish Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha
  • Mary Fons, writer, quilter and owner of PaperGirl, LLC
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Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa