Alaska Jewish Heritage Tours ... From Joy Katzen-Guthrie

Around the world, Jews have made every continent and frontier their home. Into the Northern Wilderness of America's most remote state one can discover the heritage of the native peoples and to experience a thriving and important Jewish presence there. Jewish communities are to be found in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Nome, Ketchikan, and Wasilla. From Alaska's Inside Passage, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Valdez, Seward, Anchorage, Wasilla, Denali, Fairbanks, and Nome, meeting Jewish residents of Alaska, hearing the tales of the Jewish contribution to the Gold Rush and the harsh but rewarding life of this vast frontier, with stories of Jews who left their lives in the lower 48 states or elsewhere in the world behind them to settle in this magnificent, but isolated countryside and retain their ties to Judaism.

These pages remain on my site as a resource. You'll find the Jewish presence in Alaska so important to the state's heritage. Visit the extensive collection of Alaska Jewish Links and read of Alaska's long Jewish heritage.

First Dawn, College Fiord, Sapphire Princess, September 2, 2006
Photo ©2006 by Joy Katzen-Guthrie. Alll rights reserved.

Jews were among the Danish expeditions led by explorer Vitus Bering in 1728 to map the coastline and create a permanent Russian presence to this northern tundra. Seward's very purchase of Alaska was the result of strenuous U.S. lobbying and Czarist negotiations sponsored by the Jewish merchants of San Francisco, who had established trading relations with Russian Alaska. Dawson City was site of Alaska's first Jewish services in 1898. Jews were prominent in Alaska's Gold Rush: Lewis Gerstle's Steamboats provided transportation for stampeders on the Yukon River, and J.B. Gottstein's warehouses supplied many of their goods. The Gerstle River in North East Alaska is named after Lewis Gerstle, the San Francisco merchant who, with Lewis Sloss, purchased the Russian Trading Company and renamed it the Alaska Commercial Company — becoming a major provider of groceries and general merchandise for trappers, explorers and gold seekers, steamboat transportation, and financing of Alaskan mining ventures. These village stores became the center of community activities, serving as post office, community hall, courtroom, marriage parlor, funeral home, bank, and safe haven for travelers and settlers. Mt. Ripinsky, which overlooks the Haines townsite, is named for pioneering Jewish settler Solomon Ripinsky, who made an enormous contribution to the communities of Sitka, Unalaska, Chilkat, and Haines. In 1900, Jews of the Gold Rush boom town of Nome formed the state's first Jewish congregation, and in 1901 its first Jewish organization, the Nome Hebrew Benevolent Society. Fairbanks' Jewish community was founded in 1904. Lithuanian Jew Robert Bloom peddled merchandise and ran a general store until 1941 and was a leader of the Fairbanks Jewish Community for nearly half a century. Anchorage elected its first Jewish mayor, David Leopold, in 1920. Lithuanian Jew Zachary Loussac was a member of the town's first city council and elected mayor in 1948. New York Jew Ernest Gruening, was appointed Alaska's first Governor from 1939 to 1953, was a leader in the drive for statehood, and was elected Alaska's first senator. Reform congregation Beth Sholom of Anchorage seats up to 400 worshippers while Chabad Congregation Shomrei Ohr of Anchorage is home to an active Lubavitch Jewish Center, day school, adult classes, mikvah, and Funeral Society. Juneau is home to the Reform Juneau Jewish Community and Fairbanks home of Reform Congregation Or HaTzafon. Jews hold formal services and activities in some eight other areas of Alaska as well. These Frozen Chosen, as they call themselves, say anti-semitism in Alaska is extremely rare. The state, as well as the Jewish identity in this frozen north, has been through an amazing transformation over three centuries. Read much more on these pages and enjoy.


CHINA ... I continue to assist in the planning of private or group tours to China and am happy to help you create an itinerary for yourself, your family, or your group to travel when it is perfect for you. I do not have any planned visits to China myself at this time, but hope to return to see much more of the country with a small group visiting the northern and southern Silk Roads. Please e-mail me at if you have an interest in this kind of visit to China or if I may assist you in creating a personalized tour.

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