|History of the Wood River Jewish Community
Welcome to the Wood River Jewish Community. Please drop into our office or join us for Shabbat if you are visiting Ketchum and Sun Valley. Come to our annual summer picnic. We will welcome you. We are a caring community, dedicated to inspiring good works – tikun olam -- to teaching the joys of Jewish living, and sharing our historical vision to be a light unto the nations. We believe in challenging the Jewish mind and soul, through a creative and participatory experience of Jewish living. As a community, we join and are welcomed by the many religious communities of the Wood River Valley in caring for the greater good of our community and the world.
A REFORM CONGREGATION
Although we are presently unaffiliated we use the Reform prayer book in our worship. For some of us, the Wood River Valley is our full time home. Many others of us keep homes throughout the U.S. and Canada, but spend anywhere from a few weeks to many months in the valley.
JEWS IN IDAHO
The Sun Valley area was originally a mineral mining and sheep ranching community, Averill Harriman and the Union Pacific Railroad put Sun Valley on the map as a winter and summer resort in 1937. The Jewish community was, even at that time, no stranger to Idaho. The oldest synagogue west of the Mississippi River was built in Boise in 1895, founded by Moses Alexander who served as Mayor of Boise and, in 1914, became, as Governor of Idaho, the first Jewish Governor in the United States. S.J. Friedman arrived in Idaho in 1869 to raise cattle and sheep and was elected Hailey’s first mayor. Friedman Memorial Airport, the gateway to Sun Valley, is built on land donated by the Friedman children and named in memory of their father.
THE WRJC COMES INTO EXISTENCE
The first Jewish family took up permanent residence in Ketchum in 1955 and became the nucleus of a nascent Jewish community. The growing community celebrated Seders and Chanukah festivals at the Lodge or local restaurants. Members of the community led services until, during the 1980’s, the community invited rabbis to visit the valley to conduct Holiday and Friday night services for the community. From 1995 to 2000, Boise-based Rabbi Laura Rappaport, served the WRJC part time.
Our Jewish community received its first Torah in 1989, a Holocaust Torah entrusted to us by the Westminster Synagogue in London. Our 150 year old scroll survived WWII in one of the desolated synagogues of Bohemia or Moravia, a remnant of the lost communities of Czechoslovakia. Our scroll comes from Strasnice, a town near Prague, and contains calligraphy flourishes and oversized letters reflecting its Kabbalistic origin. We meticulously restored our Torah and celebrated its return to health in 2003.
In the 1990’s our community grew steadily spiritually and culturally. Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel spent a scholar’s weekend with us and prominent Jewish leaders addressed the community. In 1998, in honor of a son’s Bar Mitzvah, the Koffler family donated an Ark crafted by a Ketchum artist. The community selected Rabbi Martin Levy as its first full-time spiritual leader of the Wood River Jewish Community. Responding to our growing needs, we secured space in downtown Ketchum as a center for the community. Our offices house, our children’s and adult library, our collection of Judaica, and from this center we educate our children, teach adult education classes, and host the community.
St. Thomas Episcopal Church offered us their sanctuary for Friday night and High Holiday services, and we rented space for our yearly Chanukah celebrations, communal Passover Seders, Purim and Sukkot celebrations. Our annual picnic attracts more than 200 participants every summer. Rabbi Martin led us from strength to strength, adding unique Sun Valley touches on his way. A gold-medalist ice skater, Rabbi Martin hosted weekends’ “Skate with the Rabbi” for the children of the community. We developed a Book Club for lively discussion and a Caring Committee to be a helping presence for our ill and our grieving members. In the summer, we have a pick-up Jewish Bike Brigade that bicycles different paths in the valley every week.
OUR PRESENT AND OUR FUTURE
Rabbi Martin left us in 2006 and Rabbi Sheila Goloboy served as our wonderful can-do interim Rabbi for a year, a year in which we held a Scholar in Residence program and celebrated weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and mourned at funerals. Rabbi Barney Brickner joined us as our permanent Rabbi in the summer of 2007. Rabbi Brickner, a son and grandson of reform Rabbis, served our community until 2008.
In December 2008 we adopted a new siddur, the Mishkan T’filah, a product of twenty years of research and discussion within the Reform movement.
Because we come from all over the U.S. and Canada, because we all chose Ketchum/Sun Valley as a place of physical beauty and spiritual renewal, because as Jews we value community, we have come together to form the Wood River Jewish Community. Our beginning is secured. Our future is uncharted. We have a dedicated leadership, tremendous energy and talent in our community, a desire to be there for each other and to make a difference in our world. We welcome you to visit us. We welcome you to join us. We welcome you.
471 Leadville Avenue
Post Office Box 837
Ketchum, Idaho 83340