Friday, November 27, 2020
Sun Valley to Get a Synagogue
The Wood River Jewish Community held an open house for members to check out the property over Fourth of July weekend.
Monday, September 14, 2020


The Bannock Indian War of 1879 was scarcely over when the first Jewish settlers began arriving in the Wood River Valley.

Simon Moses Friedman brought sheep into the valley in 1881, settling in the new town of Hailey. He was here only a matter of months before he purchased a grocery store, which he renamed the Hailey Mercantile Company. And he plunged into civic activities, joining Hailey’s first Board of Trustees.

His second cousin Samuel J. Friedman, whose children donated the land for Friedman Memorial Airport, opened his general store on Main Street in a 20-by-40-tent where he began selling dry goods, clothing, books and shoes. And he became Hailey’s first mayor just weeks after Hailey was platted.

Ron Greenspan is among those leading the charge for the Wood River Jewish Community’s first synagogue.

Now, 139 years, later, the Jewish community in the Wood River Valley is finally getting a home of its own.

The Wood River Jewish Community just closed on a building in Sun Valley’s Elkhorn Village for a low-seven-figure price, said Jeff Rose, co-chair of the Building Campaign with Marty Lyon. And it’s entertaining offers from architects for interior renovations with minor exterior touchups.

The venue, which was conceived as a community center by its original architect, will be the only physical synagogue within more than a hundred miles.

“As this is Sun Valley’s first synagogue and the first permanent home for the WRJC, we are very excited to share the news with our community,” said Rose.

The new building has plenty of spaces that can be kept or repurposed.

Jewish people have had a long and rich history in Idaho and the Wood River Valley. Simon Moses Friedman became the first Jewish mayor in America when he took the helm of Hailey in the late 1800s.

And Moses Alexander, who founded Boise’s Ahavath Beth Israel--the longest continuously operating synagogue west of the Mississippi--went on to serve as mayor of Boise and, later, the first Jewish governor in the United States.

Ari Goldstein, notes that an 1884 article about Yom Kippur in the Ketchum Keystone told of three visitors from Salt Lake City taking part in services with 27 local Jews in what is now the Mint Bar in Hailey. They broke the fast with a banquet replete with fresh oysters, speckled Eastern trout, stuffed spring chicken, stuffed teal duck, fresh oyster salad and English plum pudding.

Then they sang operatic and other songs into the wee morning hours at the Hailey Hotel.

Rabbi Robbi Sherwin said it’s possible that some of the signs in the building could end up finding a place as the Jewish community moves in.

Many of the early Jews, he noted, were lured to Ketchum and Hailey during the gold and silver mining boom. And many had German names, such as Gottlieb, Hirsch, Marx, Schwartz and Schweitzer--likely immigrants or children of immigrants who took part in the wave of German-Jewish immigration to the United States during the mid-19th century.

The WRJC has met in various buildings, including the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood and, most recently, St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Over the years, members used the Tram restaurant for Seder services and pressed Sun Valley’s Lodge Dining Room and Trail Creek Cabin into service for High Holy Days. It has used Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Church for Hanukkah celebrations and the American Legion for Passover.

In that spirit the WRJC plans to make its new home available to the Wood River Valley community for community events.

Rose noted that the Building Campaign couldn’t have come at a more challenging time. Just weeks after the WRJC went under contract to purchase the property, COVID-19 hit, precipitating a global economic crisis.

The building served as a small community market once.

But the Building Campaign committee under the direction of the WRJC’s Co-President Sue Green and Board of Directors persevered to make a project that once seemed impossible a reality.

Two hundred families in the WRJC stepped up, along with non-members, to create a level of financial support the community has never seen.

The new synagogue offers a big open space that can hold a few hundred people, as well as plenty of niches for offices, classrooms, a meeting room and library. The post office will stay.

The synagogue will provide a place for weekly Shabbat services, Sunday school and Hebrew training, adult education, visiting lecturers, Hanukkah and Passover celebrations, Bar/Mitzvah services and High Holy Day services.

The annual Jewish film festival will likely still take place in larger venues.

“It will be wonderful to have a permanent home, instead of having to use other churches as available,” said Sue Green, who now shares the presidency with Josh Kleinman.

“We are the only religious group in the Wood River Valley that does not have a church building. We have always rented space,” said Lyon.

The WRJC secured a conditional use permit to allow a synagogue to occupy its new space. It has worked with Chuck Williamson, Sun Valley Elkhorn Association’s general manager, to create no-impact parking for Elkhorn residents utilizing the parking surrounding pool, tennis and pickleball courts.

The Building Campaign is being led by Co-Chairs Jeff Rose and Marty Lyon, former WRJC president. Committee members are WRJC Board Members Ron Greenspan, Phil Goldstein, Bob Safron, WRJC Treasurer Judy Teller Kaye, Former WRJC President Julie Roos and WRJC Executive Director Claudie Goldstein.



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