- Associated Press - Monday, June 12, 2017

ASHLEY, N.D. (AP) - On a blustery Sunday, two new boulders stood strong against prairie winds just north of Ashley, N.D.

The boulders’ metallic plaques, free of patina, present a history lesson of the Jewish settlers that called the area home in the early 1900s, the Aberdeen News (https://bit.ly/2rCPunz ) reported.

Near the boulders are obelisks and other man-shaped stones with names the like of Bender, Reuben, Auerbach, Bloom and Goldstone. The letters’ edges have softened and weathered during the past 100 years or so.

During a May 21 ceremony to rededicate the Ashley Jewish Homesteaders Cemetery, the names were shared with some of the several dozen people who were in attendance.

The day was proclaimed North Dakota Jewish Homesteaders’ Day by Gov. Doug Burgum to honor the roughly 1,200 Jewish farmers who settled on 250 homesteads across the state. North Dakota had the fourth-largest population of Jewish homesteaders, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

The Ashley cemetery was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in November 2015 through the concerted efforts of cemetery board members, including Stuart Kaufman of Seattle and Rebecca Bender of Eureka.

Bender moved to her father’s hometown from Minnesota around 2013 and really dug into the history of the Jewish settlers. Her father’s family had moved from Russia, like many of the other Jewish and German immigrants of the day.

The solemn ceremony began with an invocation by Rabbi Yonah Grossman of Fargo. Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen, from Connecticut, spoke about the Reuben family from which he descended. Tilsen, also a cemetery board member, closed the program with a prayer for the departed, which was followed by the Mourner’s Kaddish led by Kaufman.

In between, the newest generations of Jewish families shared stories of their ancestors as their suits, scarves and kippas caught the heavy afternoon breeze. The daughters, sons and grandchildren named the trades, businesses, marriages and children of their forefathers and foremothers who helped shape the area.

“Just yesterday in the Twin Cities we were at a Memorial (Day) service for Jewish servicemen from the area, and my son looked at me and said, ‘Can you believe there were more people in Ashley, N.D. than here?’” Bender said by phone Tuesday.

The mother and son remarked they had a very special, historic event in Ashley that isn’t likely to be duplicated anytime soon. That’s what drew the crowd, Bender said.

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