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Cultural Heritage Center to host book talk/signing about Jewish family

The history of five generations of a Jewish family who settled in the Midwest will be told during a program at the Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre.

Rebecca Bender will discuss the book “Still” and sign copies of it at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 11. She and her late father, Kenneth Bender, are the book’s authors. Everyone is welcome to attend the free program, hosted by the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation. Copies of “Still” will be available to purchase at the program.

Rebecca Bender, who lives in Eureka, said her goal initially was to honor and preserve the memories of a little-known group of Jewish immigrant homesteaders in the Dakotas. Building anti-Semitism against Jews caused the group, including Bender’s ancestors, to flee Odessa, Russia, in 1905 and come to Ashley, N.D., to farm. The Jewish immigrant farmers changed common perceptions regarding the types of occupations in which Jews engage, while another generation of Bender’s family ran a general store in Eureka during the Depression. “Still” follows the life of Kenneth Bender as he volunteers to serve in the armed forces during World War II – challenging stereotypes that Jews did not serve or won’t fight.

“The book continues to the present – showing a history of Jews and non-Jews working together, living together and supporting each other, while at the same time educating readers about how Jews have been challenged by historical events and have persevered,” Rebecca Bender said. “The book explains the important tenets and culture of Judaism in the context of real-life stories, causing the religion and what it means to ‘lead a Jewish life’ to come alive for the reader.”

The book’s title comes from a question posed to Rebecca Bender by a reporter: Are you still Jewish?

Rebecca Bender drew on manuscripts, family histories, census records, letters, oral history, photographs and other documents when writing “Still.”

She said she hopes the book encourages people to write down their personal histories for subsequent generations.

“The unique tales I discovered would have been lost had those before me not taken the time to write down their own memories, or collect the family histories of others,” she said.

About the South Dakota State Historical Society
The South Dakota State Historical Society is a division of the Department of Education. The State Historical Society, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is headquartered at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. The center houses the society’s world-class museum, the archives, and the historic preservation, publishing and administrative/development offices. Call 605-773-3458 or visit www.history.sd.gov for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call 605-394-1936 for more information.

About the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation
The South Dakota Historical Society Foundation is a private charitable nonprofit that seeks funding to assist the South Dakota State Historical Society in programming and projects to preserve South Dakota’s history and heritage for future generations.