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State Historical Society of Iowa Press Release

For immediate release August 20, 2009

Contact: Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515) 281-3858

Exhibit about Dubuque’s Jewish community history visits State Historical Library

“From Distant Places to Dubuque Shores: 175 Years of Jewish Presence” opens Sept. 9

(DES MOINES) – An exhibit that explores the history of Dubuque’s Jewish community through the life of Alexander Levi visits the State Historical Library & Archives Reading Room next month.

“From Distant Places to Dubuque Shores: 175 Years of Jewish Presence” from Temple Beth El in Dubuque will be on display Sept. 9-Dec. 3, 2009, at the State Historical Library, 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines. The Historical Library is open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Admission is free and open to the public. Call 515-281-6897 for more information.

“We are very pleased to be partnering with the Iowa Jewish Historical Society to bring this exhibit to Des Moines,” Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Cyndi Pederson said. “This five-panel exhibit celebrates the unique role that Dubuque’s Jewish community played in the history of the city and our state, and I encourage all Iowans with an interest in history to come and see it.”

Karin Pritikin, vice president of Temple Beth El, conceived and designed the exhibit, which tells the story of Alexander Levi, a French Jew of Spanish descent.

The exhibit follows Levi’s immigration to the United States and arrival in Iowa in 1833, the same year Dubuque was founded. His story parallels those of many immigrant entrepreneurs of different nationalities who made good and took leading roles as philanthropists in their communities.

He began his career as a fur trader, created a grocery business and became a successful miner. In 1847, he opened what would become one of the most successful retail stores of his time and became a leader of Dubuque’s Jewish community, founding the first two Jewish congregations in Dubuque and purchasing land for a Jewish cemetery.

The exhibit expands on Levi’s story and connects the Jewish community’s continuous contributions to Dubuque’s 175-year history. The exhibit also asks questions that encourage visitors to learn about and record their own family histories.

In addition, the exhibit includes multi-media presentations about Jewish music from the Middle East to Europe and beyond; Linwood Cemetery; a video of Temple Beth El’s oldest congregant, Frank Farber, who recalls stories about people he knew who are buried in the cemetery; and a slide show of images from the Levi family.

The exhibit was developed by The Alexander Levi Heritage Project with support from the City of Dubuque, Humanities Iowa/National Endowment for the Humanities and Chicago philanthropist Dick Jaffee of Oil-Dri Corporation of America. It first opened in 2008 at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, a Smithsonian Institution regional affiliate.

More information about the exhibit is available at www.levicelebration.com.


Karin Pritikin, Vice President of Temple Beth El, is Director of The Alexander Levi Heritage Project and the Developer of the Levi exhibit. A former musician who enjoys singing 17th-20th century cantorial music and chanting from the Torah at Temple Beth El services, Pritikin splits her time between Galena, Ill., (11 miles from Dubuque) and Chicago, where she works as Development Officer for Health & Medicine Policy Research Group, a grassroots organization working to build an equitable health system for all. Pritikin learned recently that she has a personal, ancestral connection to Dubuque's Jewish community. Her Grandmother, Sadie Pritikin (nee Goldberg), was born in Hungary and raised in Chicago, but came to Dubuque in 1915, at age 15, to work for a year in the home and shop of her cousin, Sam Koppel.

The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa's historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa's past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa's historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit www.iowahistory.org or call 515-281-5111 for more information.


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