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Jewish Life & History in Iowa: UI Archival Collections: Jewish Religious & Community Life

Jewish Religious & Community Life: An Overview

Jewish Religious & Community Life


This page features collections that illuminate aspects of Jewish religious and community life in cities and towns across Iowa and more broadly.  Included here are the records of two of the earliest Jewish congregations established in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1901 and 1927; the family papers of Eugene Mannheimer, who was rabbi at the B’nai Jeshrun Temple in Des Moines for over forty years; and the organizational records of the Agudas Achim Sisterhood, a women’s organization that has served the Iowa City synagogue since 1916.  Personal papers document family histories of immigration and early efforts to build families, communities, and businesses; women’s contributions to a range of Jewish groups and organizations, including Hadassah, the American Zionist Youth Commission, and the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism; and individual and community celebrations of Jewish holidays and rites of passage.  Scattered throughout, researchers will also find several written histories of Jewish communities and religious institutions in Iowa and the Midwest. 


Check out the individual collection descriptions below to learn more! The title of each collection links directly to the full finding aid for more complete details on biography/history, scope and contents, and collection material.

From the Helen Potash papers

Wedding photo of Helen Potash's parents, Max Karpman and K. Marie Rogers Karpman, 1936.

From the Shloss and Mannheimer Families papers


Newspaper clipping re: Max Shloss's role in the founding of the Temple of B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Des Moines Register, 1930.

From the Chapman Family papers

Ansel Chapman, Bar Mitzvah, Des Moines, 1928.



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives 

Records, 1952-2015. 1.75 linear feet. 

Records of the women’s organization activities associated with an Iowa City synagogue. The Agudas Achim Congregation was established in 1916; the Sisterhood was founded in 1932 as a social and service organization for women of the congregation, who organized social, holiday, and fundraising events. Records include material related to the group’s administration, fundraising, events, and the Sisterhood’s newsletter, as well as publications from other Jewish organizations such as the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. 



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1931-1984. 7 linear inches. 

A former resident of Sioux City and Denison, Iowa, whose parents emigrated from Russia to the United States in the early 1910s. She and her husband, Samuel Bailen, managed a series of small grocery stores in Nebraska and Iowa in the 1930s and 1940s. Plotkin’s papers include a yearbook and scrapbook material documenting her time at Sioux City High School, where she participated in AWR, a Jewish sorority. A family tree, photographs, and scrapbook shed light on Plotkin’s social activities and family life with her husband and four children.  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1925-2016. 7.5 linear inches. 

A philanthropist and member of the Jewish community in Sioux City, Iowa. The papers primarily concern Bernstein’s family life and include obituaries, newspaper clippings, and family photographs of multiple generations. A biography of Gussie Bernstein’s husband, Sam Bernstein, provides insight into the couple’s life together and Sam Bernstein’s business, Sioux City Compressed Steel and State Steel. 



Location: University of Iowa Special Collections

Papers, 1926-1951. 

James Willis Bollinger was a lawyer and judge who graduated from the University of Iowa Law School in 1893 and served as district judge in Scott County. Bollinger was a collector of Abraham Lincoln items and, in addition to material related to his life, the papers include his collection of objects and ephemera related to Lincoln. Among those are several addresses related to Lincoln that were given by different rabbis. 

Relevant material from collection: 

M-2778 Hertz, Emanuel. “Abraham Lincoln—the Seer: Some Biblical and Hebraic Traits.” Reprinted from the Jewish Forum. NYC. Feb 1925. Box 21. 

M-2581 Krauskopf, Joseph. “Back to Lincoln: A Discourse at Temple Keneseth Israel.” Feb 1922. Box 19. 

M-2636 Feldman, Abraham J. “Have We Forgotten Lincoln?” Feb 1923. Box 20. 

M-1256 Krauskopf, Joseph. “Ninetieth Birthday of Lincoln and Darwin.” Feb 1899. Box 13. 

M-2033 Krauskopf, Joseph. “Could a Lincoln be President in Our Day?” Feb 1912. Box 16. 



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives 

Papers, 1929-2010. 

An Iowa City community activist who was born in Grajewo, Poland in 1910 and emigrated to Council Bluffs, Iowa with her family in1921. Braverman was a founding member of the Sisterhood of Agudas Achim Synagogue and was active in Hadassah and other women’s organizations. The papers include a memoir of Braverman’s childhood in Poland and an oral history that sheds light on her student and family life and the Jewish community in Iowa. 


BRODKEY, LILLIAN (1917-2017) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1935-2015. 5 linear inches. 

Local Jewish and community activist who, in the 1940s, worked as the Assistant Director and Field Secretary of the Brandeis Camp Institute and as a national educator for the American Zionist Youth Commission, traveling throughout the county conducting trainings for local Hadassah and Young Judea chapters. After moving to Sioux City, Iowa in 1946, Brodkey was active with community and youth organizations .Brodkey was the first female President of the Shaare Zion Synagogue in Sioux City in the 1980s. Papers include material related to her professional work and community service. A travel diary recalls her trip to Israel in 1978. 


CANTER, MIRIAM R. (1922- ) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1903-2016. 1.25 linear feet. 

A Jewish woman who produced cookbooks in Iowa City and supported local arts, along with her husband, Arthur Canter. Canter contributed thousands of volunteer hours to university and community organizations such as the Old Capitol Museum, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and the Hancher Guild. Canter also helped produce local cookbooks; her collection includes the fundraiser cookbooks created by the Agudas Achim Sisterhood and the Cedar Rapids chapter of Hadassah. Papers include Arthur Canter’s memoir and a 1989 history of Temple Judah in Cedar Rapids.    



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1896-2016. 2.6 linear feet. 

Papers describe multiple generations of a prominent Jewish family in Iowa City, Iowa that included Nathan and Dora Chapman, owners of the Englert Theater, and Ansel and Corinne Chapman, a State District Court Judge and a community leader active in the League of Women Voters. The papers include only a small amount of material regarding the Englert, Ansel Chapman’s law career and judgeship, and Corinne Chapman’s public service. Baby books, correspondence, memorial tributes and condolence letters, and photographs document the Chapmans’ family life and place in the community. The collection includes an essay written by Ansel and Corinne Chapman’s daughter, Katherine Chapman, “A Reflection on 100 Years of Agudas Achim.” 


COHN, ELIZABETH (1913-2006) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1920-1987. 5 linear inches.  

A community activist in civic and Jewish organizations in Waterloo, Iowa, Cohn was a public speaker and an advocate for the empowerment of Jewish women. Cohn was president of the Sons of Jacob Synagogue and a lifelong member of Hadassah and the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. The papers focus on Cohn’s involvement in local and national Jewish organizations and include speeches, newspaper clippings, and correspondence. Collection also includes typewritten prayers and two volumes of Jewish religious music. 



Location: University of Iowa Special Collections 

During the New Deal of the 1930s, one of the projects of the Federal Writers' Project was an American Guide Series devoted to the providing a history and overview of each state. The files in this collection were prepared by the FWP predominantly for the Iowa guidebook, Iowa: A Guide to the Hawkeye State. The collection includes two folders related to Jewish history in Iowa. 

Relevant material from collection: 

Jews (Subject File). Box 3. 

“Jewish Population of Johnson County.” (Martin, James S., August 29, 1939). Box 42. 



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1929-2007. 10 linear inches. 

Friedman was a community activist within the Jewish communities in Sioux City, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska. The collection concentrates on her early life, prior to her marriage in 1947. While a student at Central High School (Sioux City) and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Friedman was active in the Jewish community and founded and/or participated in Jewish sororities and organizations. The collection includes correspondence, diaries, photographs, newsletters, and a scrapbook from this period.  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1926-2014. 2.5 linear inches. 

The daughter of Romanian immigrants, Gendler lived in Hawarden, Iowa in the 1940s, before relocating to Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband, Jay Gendler, and children. Following her husband’s death in 1972, Gendler began a career as an office manager for the Jewish Community Relations Council in Minneapolis. Collection consists of a flier for Gendler’s 100th birthday celebration and photographs of Gendler and her husband, the couple’s parents, children, and other family and friends. 



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1869-2018. 7.5 linear feet. 

The collection is centered on Norman and Hannah Scheer Berg and their children, followed by materials related to Scheer Berg’s extended family, who emigrated from Russia to Iowa in the nineteenth century. The couple married in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1941 and lived in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and California during their 40+ years of marriage. Both worked on the cause of cystic fibrosis after two of their children were diagnosed. The papers include records, correspondence, photographs, and artifacts documenting the Berg’s family and community life, as well as twenty books related to Jewish religion and community. 


KAIMAN, SUZI (1946- ) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1907-2009. 2.5 linear feet. 

Family- and community-oriented Jewish woman from Sioux City, Iowa, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a Master’s in Special Education from Oklahoma University in 1968. Kaiman was active with Jewish organizations in Sioux City and the collection includes newsletters and other material from the Conservative Jewish Women’s League, the Jewish Federation, and Shaare Zion. Correspondence, extensive photographs, and an oral history of Kaiman’s father, Harold Goldstein, provide insight into her family and community life. The collection also includes five yearbooks from Kaiman’s time at Central High School. 



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1952. 0.25 linear inches (single item). 

Sioux City resident and the daughter of Ida Plotkin Hall and Leonard Hall, longtime residents of Denison, Iowa. The collection consists of a single photograph depicting what seems to be a Hanukah party put together by the children of the four Jewish families living in Denisen in 1952. An accompanying list identifies the eight children present, including Krigsten. The photo provides a glimpse into how Jewish families living in rural small towns in the post war moment sought to sustain Jewish traditions.  


LEBOWICH, RUTH (1952- ) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1945-2018. 2.5 linear inches. 

Ruth Lebowich was born in 1952 in Sioux City, Iowa, to Jewish immigrants, Martin (Moishe) Lebowich and Fanny Wolanski Lebowich. Her parents and older brother Gordon emigrated from Germany after living in a displaced persons’ camp following the Holocaust, and the family settled in Sioux City, Iowa. Ruth Lebowich graduated from Sioux City’s Central High School in 1971 and attended the University of South Dakota for two years before returning to Iowa and working in a packinghouse. She married Steven Palash in 2003. Ruth Lebowich and her family were active in Congregation Beth Shalom. This small collection documents Lebowich’s family and community life, especially through photographs from 1945-1975. The collection includes a few items related to her family’s experience in the Holocaust, including a metal plate which her father received when he entered a displaced persons’ camp in Germany after the war.  Also included are several CDs with Yiddish songs and Jewish stories.  


MANNHEIMER, EUGENE  (1880-1952) 

Location: University of Iowa Special Collections 

Papers, 1902-1951. 0.75 linear feet. 

Eugene Max Mannheimer was a Jewish Rabbi at Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa, from May 1905 to October 1943. This collection consists of his unpublished manuscript, Reminiscences of My Three Score Years and Nine, concerning American-Jewish life in America during the first half of the twentieth century. Also included is an alphabetical index, a page index, and a calendar of Mannheimer's meetings and sermons dated from 1905 to 1950. A memorial booklet is filed in the first folder. Also see the Shloss and Mannheimer Families papers (below).



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1926-1980. 5 linear inches. 

The Braverman family were important members of the early Jewish community in Iowa City, settling there after immigrating to the United States from Russia in the 1910s. Newspaper clippings and correspondence form the bulk of the collection and primarily document the lives of Naomi Braverman, her parents Joseph T. and Sarah Braverman, and her sister, Betty Braverman during the 1930s and 1940s. The papers speak to the family's active involvement with Jewish, civic, and community organizations, such as the Agudas Achim Synagogue and its Sisterhood, Hillel and the Jewish Ladies’ Relief Society, United Way, the University Women’s Association Council, the Community Chest and social services boards in Iowa City, and the United Jewish Campaign. There is also substantial material related to Naomi and Betty Braverman’s activities as students at the State University of Iowa (now University of Iowa), where they belonged to the Sigma Delta Tau sorority. Betty Braverman wrote many articles for the Daily Iowan, Iowa Jewish News, and other local papers. One of the scrapbooks concerns the Iowa City Jewish community’s reaction to the rise of Hitler and the buildup to World War Two. 


POLLAK, OLIVER (1943- ) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1890-2017. 10 linear inches. 

A history professor and lawyer who co-founded the Nebraska Historical Society with Mary Arbitman Fellman in 1982 in order to document the family, business, and social histories of the Jewish community of Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa. The collection consists of documents and twenty cookbooks from Jewish congregations and women’s organizations across the state of Iowa. 


POTASH, HELENA (1948- ) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1919-2012. 10 linear inches. 

Member of the Jewish community in Sioux City, Iowa who was born in Springfield, Illinois to Kathryne Marie and Max Karpman. Potash attended the University of Iowa, where she met her husband, Michael, and is active in Jewish and arts organizations in Sioux City.  Papers include family photographs and biographical material for multiple generations, including personal reflections and memories recorded by different family members. A collection of Max Karpman’s life stories sheds light on his experience growing up Jewish in Chicago at the turn of the century and starting a business and family.   



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Records, 1901-2015. 10.2 linear feet. 

Records of multiple religious and community institutions that served the Jewish population of Sioux City from the early 1900s to the present day. Extensive records related to the administration, membership, activities, affiliated organizations, and history of Shaare Zion Synagogue, Mt. Sinai Temple, and Beth Shalom Congregation; includes material for several affiliated women’s organizations, such as the Women’s League, Mt. Sinai Sisterhood, and Hadassah. Material on the Jewish Federation of Sioux City and the Jewish Community Center provides insight into community activities, events, and individual social and service clubs that utilized the Center from 1950 to 1994. Histories of the Sioux City Jewish community and individual members are available in collected memories and reflections, written histories, and material related to anniversaries and reunions.   


SHAPIRO, BEN AND BETTY (1924 and 1926 - )  

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1913-1993. 2.5 linear inches. 

Ben and Betty Shapiro are members of the Sioux City Jewish community, active in the Shaare Zion Synagogue and, later, the Congregation Beth Shalom. Ben Shapiro grew up in Sioux City, graduated from Central High School, and went on to own general stores in the city. The papers consist primarily of family history, including genealogical research for the Shapiros and a biography which Ben Shapiro wrote about his father, a Russian immigrant who settled in Sioux City in 1912. Also included are photographs and a cookbook produced by the Shaare Zion Women’s League. 


SHERMAN, JIM (1932- ) 

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1986-1998. 1.5 linear feet. 

A Sioux City native who served as lay leader of Shaare Zion Synagogue from 1986 to 1994 and Congregation Beth Shalom from 1994 to 1998. Papers consist of eulogies delivered by Sherman at those sites, as well as related biographical information and funeral materials. The eulogies highlight Sherman’s longstanding relationships throughout the Sioux City Jewish community, as well as providing biographical details for many female members of the congregations.  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1896-1986. 2 linear feet. 

Prominent Des Moines families including Irma Mannheimer, her husband Rabbi Eugene Mannheimer of Temple B'nai Jeshurun, and her parents, Rose and Max Shloss—the owners of Lederer and Strauss and Company. The Shloss papers includes biographical material and family photographs and scrapbooks. Irma Mannheimer was a community leader, active in women’s, civic, and Jewish organizations, including the Des Moines Women’s Club, Jewish Welfare Federation, and Iowa Jewish Home. Her papers include a memory book and diary from her time at Bryn Mawr College, scrapbooks and photographs documenting family and community life, and public speeches she delivered from 1923 to 1967. Eugene Mannheimer’s papers include diaries, correspondence, and newspaper clippings from his rabbinate, as well as many of his sermons and speeches.  



Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1913-2015. 10 linear inches.  

Harriet “Sissy” Silber and her mother, Rose Katelman, owned and operated Katelman Hardware in Council Bluffs, Iowa from 1962 to 1981. Prior to 1962, Rose and her husband, Louis Katelman, had run the store together since the 1930s. This small collection of family papers includes a series focused on the Jewish community of Council Bluffs and the B’nai Israel Synagogue. This material includes articles, a letter to the editor, a list of Jewish grocery stores in Council Bluffs, and a program for a celebration at B’Nai Israel. There is also a prayer book and a book commemorating the 50th anniversary of the synagogue, including a history of it and its associated organizations such as Hadassah and Agudas Achim.  


TUCKER, BERTHA KORN (1908-2010)  

Location: Iowa Women’s Archives  

Papers, 1920-1999. 2 linear feet. 

Writer and life-long student who lived in Des Moines with her family and was active with the Sisterhood (Jewish aid society) and Yiddish class at the Beth El Jacob Synagogue. After earning a two-year Certificate in Education from Drake University in 1926, Tucker returned to complete her Bachelor’s degree in English in 1969. Much of the collection consists of her writing, including creative and academic writing on various Jewish-themed topics, such as Yiddish folk music and Anne Frank, as well as a selection of her Yiddish translations. Family photographs and correspondence include some letters and postcards from her daughter, Janey Tucker, while abroad in Europe and Israel.