If there is any to truth to the Anchorage Daily News suggestion the Pioneers of Alaska – one of the 49th state’s sillier clubs – is a bunch of anti-Semites, the late Robert Bloom must be spinning in his grave.

Bloom was one of the founders of Pioneer Igloo No. 4, a Fairbanks businessman, a founder of the University of Alaska, a proponent of the first U.S. Air Force base in Alaska, and a Jew.

Very much a Jew.

“In 1900, he officiated at the first Jewish funeral, for a man who drowned in the Fortymile River,” according to his biography at The Jewish Museum of the American West. “(He) closed his store every year for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.”

Bloom wasn’t some closet Jew. History makes it clear he was very public about his religion.

He “was an active participant in the Jewish communities in Dawson and Fairbanks,” the bio says. “(He) also served as chairman of the Jewish Welfare Board. Robert and Jessie (his wife) Bloom opened their home to servicemen during World War II for religious services and Passover Seders.”

A Lithuanian who journeyed to America in 1895 at age 17, he joined the great Klondike Gold Rush to Dawson, Yukon Territory, Canada only three years later and followed other miners to Fairbanks in 1902.

By 1906, at age 28, he opened a hardware store on Fairbanks’ Front Street, which he ran for the next 36 years. He was a true Alaska pioneer and a Jew, but maybe it was only the Pioneers of Fairbanks accepting of Jews.

Anchorage furrier

But wait, there was this businessman named David Green in Anchorage who was also a member of the Pioneers of Alaska. Some might recognize that name.

David Green Master Furrier, a downtown business in the state’s largest city, still bears his name. He started the store in 1922. His son’s Jerry and Perry took over in 1971. His grandson, David, now runs the business.

The elder David Green, who died in 1971, features in the “Jewish Movers and Shakers of Early Anchorage” at the Alaska Jewish Museum.

The exhibit ““tells the story of six families whom (Rabbi Yosef) Greenberg called ‘instrumental’ in establishing the city,” Rich Tenorio reported in the The Times of Israel last year.

Among the others joining Green are  Isadore “Ike” Bayles, another member of the Pioneers of Alaska, and Leopold David, the first mayor of Anchorage. David didn’t live long enough to join the Pioneers; he died young at age 46.

The Pioneers promptly dragged him into the fold anyway.

“Known and respected by all, he was the first honorary member of the Pioneers of Alaska Igloo No. 15,” says his biography at the University of Alaska, which he served as a regent. 

David was followed into office by Zachariah Joshua Loussac – Zack to many in his day. He was a Jew, an immigrant from Russia fleeing persecution and, oh yes, a member of the Alaska Pioneers, according to his bio at The Jewish Museum of the American West.

Beatrice Bayles, Ike’s wife, it should probably be noted here was also the president of Anchorage Women’s Igloo #4 in 1921.

The Pioneers, suffice to say, have a pretty rich Jewish history. They might have been racists – a whites-only requirement for membership wasn’t dropped until 1982 – but there is no hint they were ever anti-Semites.

It is only sad that so many members of the organization are unfamiliar with its Jewish history. Past president Roger Storrs said Friday he didn’t know if the Pioneers had Jewish members or not.

“There has to be,” he said, “but I honestly don’t separate people that way.”

He seemed a little offended by the question about anti-Semitism, which stems from the accusation in the Daily News that current Anchorage Major Ethan Berkowitz, who is Jewish, was “blackballed” when he applied for membership.

“What has happened to us?” Storrs asked. “We’re going 1,000 different directions, and everyone has their ax to grind.”

Politics, politics, politics

“Blackball” is a loaded term. Its second definition – “to exclude socially, ostracize” – is what it is now commonly meant to mean in this country. 

In the case of the Pioneers, however, it has a more specific term. Black or white marbles dropped in a box are how the Pioneers vote new members in or out. Three black ones, and you’re toast. The voting procedure dates back to Alaska gold mining days.

Berkowitz attracted three black marbles and was denied membership. Why specifically he drew the black marbles is unknown, but there are reasons to dislike the mayor, starting with the simple fact that he is a politician.

There are no doubt people who would drop a black marble on him for that just as there are people who would drop a black marble on me because I’m a journalist. I’ve personally run into people who don’t know me from Adam who hate me because they disagree with something I once wrote.

Welcome to life.

Prejudices are everywhere, and there is no doubt some Jews in Alaska are sure to have endure it at sometime. There is no evidence whatsoever to indicate it is systemic within the Pioneers.

John Aho, another former Anchorage Igloo president who was at the meeting with about 30 others at which the Berkowtiz vote was cast, said the mayor’s Jewish heritage never came up.

“I don’t see that that’s ever come up before,” he added Friday, but like Storrs he was unaware of the Jewish history of the Pioneers or of any Jewish members.

“There could very well be some,” he said, but who knows. It’s not something the Pioneers think about, let alone worry about.

The Pioneers are a fraternal organization like the Alaska Press Club, which exists mainly to see to it that all journalists who work in Alaska love each other (or pretend to) and win an award for something during their usually short careers.

 The Pioneers was formed in Nome in 1907  “to preserve the names of Alaska’s pioneers on its rolls; to collect and preserve the literature and incidents of Alaska’s history;
and to promote the best interests of Alaska.”

“The roles of the Pioneers in early Alaska were many,” says the webpage of the Anchorage chapter. “Oftentimes, they would band together to overcome natural disasters, provide much needed and difficult to find medical supplies for the sick or injured, or provide food, housing and medical assistance for those in need.  In fact, in the early days of the Alaska Pioneers the membership application required a physical description to aid in the identification of those who died while on the trail or in a remote cabin.

“Today, the Anchorage Pioneer Men’s and Women’s Igloos continue the tradition of keeping alive the memories of old-time Alaskans and work diligently to give back to our community through scholarships, community events, and historical site maintenance.”

The Pioneers of today appear to be a group of old fogies with good intentions, but not even good intentions can escape the American political divide of these times.

Walk out

Aho blamed Berkowitz’s Pioneer election defeat on “a couple of Republicans.”

Clearly, he said, “it was political.”

Aho himself had a pretty strong reaction to that.

“I told them it was bullshit, and I walked out,” he said. But he hasn’t quit the Pioneers. At least not yet.

“If you quit,” he said, “you can’t change the system, but if the system doesn’t change, I’m out of there. What’s happened is that it hasn’t changed with the time.”

He’s wrong. The problem isn’t the Pioneers; it’s Alaskans.

This used to be a state where tolerance was high because people needed each other. No matter how different political views, the flaming liberal and the get-off-my-lawn conservative down the street recognized that come the next earthquake or the next big storm, or the car in the ditch at 40 degrees below zero, or the grizzly bear in the house, they might need each other.

Alaska has modernized. That kind of thinking has faded. We’re urban now: screw you; I got mine; get out of my way or, as one might view the mayor:

“I don’t really like Ethan. He’s a liberal know-it-all who hasn’t done much in office except let the crime rate soar. I’m dropping the black marble on him.”

There’s probably a damn interesting story here if someone could get the black-marble men to talk, but columnist Charles Wohlforth didn’t bother with that. He just ran with this:

“The Pioneers of Alaska recently ‘blackballed’ Mayor Ethan Berkowitz from membership using a gold-rush era ritual, raising questions about prejudice for an oldtimers’ club that has faced them before.

“….That left several people I spoke to wondering if the vote happened because Berkowitz is Jewish.”

The names of those “several people?” Unknown.

Wohlforth didn’t identify them, but he did call Berkowitz for comment, and then leveraged the mayor’s comment to make the whole thing look like anti-Semitism.

“I don’t suspect it, but it wouldn’t surprise me,” Berkowitz was quoted as saying. “I hope it’s not part of the coarseness that is happening across the nation, because we should be above that.”

It’s too bad the mayor isn’t a little more familiar with the history of Pioneers. A better answer would have been this:

“The first mayor of Anchorage was Jewish and made an honorable member of the Pioneers shortly after his premature death. The second mayor of Anchorage was Jewish and joined the Pioneers. The city library is now named for him.

“I see no reason to believe the Pioneers would reject me because I’m Jewish.  I’m sure it’s about politics, and I wish we could get beyond that.”

But that would have been the high road, and nobody takes the high road in America today because President Donald Trump is too many of us. The smallest slight is a reason to take offense even if the offense is largely meaningless.

It’s possible Berkowitz spent the week crying himself to sleep because he wasn’t allowed into the Pioneers of Alaska on this go around, but I somehow doubt it.

39 replies »

  1. hard to believe all this bs is going on. I am a 4th generation Alaskan, only reason reluctant to join Pioneers of Alaska was due to fact that in the beginning, it was so “sexist” –women had to belong to an “auxiliary” group. Now, of course, having relocated to northern CA, it all seems so ridiculous–I hear you only have had to be in Alaska for 20 years now to join–and seems like most new members are not “real” Alaskans–just want to jump on to the bandwagon. I was born in Anchorage in 1942 and never even knew the difference between a Jewish person and anybody else (including Natives) while growing up as my family had no biases. We all worked and played alongside one another.

    • It _should_ be hard to believe, given there’s no actual evidence to support the smear.

      And I’m not sure applying “sexist” post-facto, given the history of service organizations, both men’s and women’s is just. Women had their own organizations and clubs men couldn’t join, and no one minded because, realistically, who cares? Don’t like the existing choices? Start your own club with like-minded people, just like all the others did.

    • Good info Bryan . The real question is who pays for those Democrat leaders to work against Americans ally Israel? Also The UN has been doing some very strange things against Jewish state . Iran somehow has leaders in the un . Unless I miss remember.

  2. Who could possibly give a shit about these self elected so-called ‘pioneers’? Most of the real ones weren’t, and won’t, be recognized anyway. Time to give it a rest. Don’t add any more and then have a party when the last one croaks.

  3. Great article Craig. I enjoyed the history lesson.

    I usually enjoy the comment section. Not sure what to make of it this time, other than some people have outdone themselves.

  4. I would have given Berkowitz a black marble. Because pompous assholes deserve black marbles no matter what religion they embrace.

  5. I love your articles. It doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree with the thoughts you bring forward, I’m forced to THINK. We could use a lot more journalist such as yourself. And no I’m not Alaskan although I lived there for 3 years during my young and dumb days. 😉

  6. The blind loyalty to the socialistic democratic party has always been puzzling to me…The dems are against wealth and hard work which are the cornerstones of all the jewish folks I have ever known.
    Kinda strange that it isn’t rape or sexual assault if your a dem either…Re;Bubba Clinton and the Kennedy’s…

  7. wow ! A very important issue! Thank goodness author of this site digs into details with a historically astute analysis! I agree 100% how he portrays Alaska pioneers mindset and now how there appears to be a different sort of vicious urban mindset permeating America as a whole . I have seen and felt the huge change . Also I pretty much agree with Micheal carberry . The slander and innuendo against people is out of reasonable insanity. I love the media and press who provide news but it’s almost like we need a reset or some parameters that have to be met as far as facts met and accuracy or else a news source should lose a license to publish. To many politicized ,misleading and hate mongering news outlets. Alaska was a place that needed one another. That made our state exceptional in my opinion.

  8. The now common passive-aggressive, inherently ethically libelous/slanderous (in that it impugns character without evidence), “I’m not making an accusation, I’m just asking the question” insinuation technique is used by cowards without the stones nor character to take a stand, make an accusation, back it up with actual evidence, and face the consequences of being proven wrong.

    It’s a trash move by trash people who want to smear their betters and evade responsibility for their actions. If a person (or reporter) has actual falsifiable evidence of wrongdoing, then sack up, present the evidence, and let the chips fall where they may. Don’t hide behind “might be” and “just asking the question.” It’s an inherently unjust BS move which puts the impossible burden of proving innocence on the falsely impugned. Impossible because how can one mount a defense when one has not ever been formally accused, nor been shown the “evidence” against oneself?

    The cowardly trash accuser achieves their actual goal of simply smearing the reputation of an innocent while evading contradiction or responsibility.

  9. The purpose statement includes “to promote the best interests of Alaska.” Three people not unreasonably concluded they were voting correctly…If the vote had been to banish it would have been less favorable to the applicant in question.

  10. I liked what you wrote. It was informative. But i wish, in your first paragraph, you would have written that this opinion piece was written by Wohlforth. instead you wrote it was an ADN suggestion. Do you have a bias showing? 🤗

    • i hope not. it was an opinion piece by the newspaper’s staff columnist. such commentaries are generally accepted as reflecting the views of the newspaper in part large or small. editors still control what runs there i would hope.

  11. Bit off topic so I apologize but, can someone explain the twisted relationship between the Jews and the Democrat Party? Democrats in general hate Jews, Israel (So much so there is even a boycott by collective, liberal college professors to even help students who want letters of recomendation to study in Israel), and support the PLO (Obama’s good buddy William Aires). I just find it interesting watching American Jews support those that wish them harm. Not to mention the liberal anti-Semite wave taking over Europe. Tolerance is a fantasy word to play for college students.
    I am not sure I’d support a Jew because of their conflicted philosophy stated above. I have an old Jewish uncle who is diehard Democrat and he cannot shed light on question.

    • Even more puzzling is black support of Democrats – unless you look at it from the perspective of the Stockholm syndrome.

    • Byran,
      I doubt anyone (friend or family) can shed light on your obsession with the Democrats.
      Maybe it is Jealously?
      Do they smile too much for you?
      Honestly, if you look at the donors to the Democratic Party, you will see lots of Jewish people…
      Your problem is trying to label all views that are in opposition to your narrow conservative basis.
      Think outside the box and you will see people as people and not political operatives….
      As for “anti Semitic” movements in Europe….
      Hitler and Mussolini were not “liberals”…Do you not recall history?
      There is nothing Liberal about segregating a group or religion, therefore that comment is a contradiction in and of itself.

      • Craig, it is just an observation tjat surprises me, nothing more. The Obama Admin was no friend of Israel and I think that goes without say. They made clear by not only directly meddling in their elections but by outright support of the Palestenians. My post was not to solicite bias but merely a curious observation on how the American Jews vote against the interests of the State of Israeli.
        “American Jews constitute only 3 percent of the voting public, and have cast a majority of their votes for the Democratic nominee in every presidential election since 1916 (the first for which we have data).”

      • Bryan,
        Honestly…you are a “good example” of a “bad example”….
        The NY Post is a darn “Tabloid” who has right wing populous connections.
        Alex Hamilton is well known to journalists to spread Hatred throughout America.
        Why don’t you google the word “bigot” that may get you on the right track to Freedom.

      • Sorry that should have said Alex Hamilton (started) a populous publication…
        Obviously he is not around today, but his ethos lives on in NY Post.

      • Nice try Steve Stine..Wrong. Guess the NYT is a tabloid to huh? I am pretty sure you can find other sources up to your standards that say the same thing and VALIDATE MY POINT.

      • Steve Stine, so Alexander Hamilton, a Founder spread hate? Are you INSANE? Where do you come up with your stuff?

      • Bryan…
        There have been 2 major views on how our country should be run from day 1 of the constitution.
        Lets say the Hamilton vs. Jefferson POV just to simply.
        Guys like U and Hamilton wish to divide the “got mine” crowd vs. The “don’t have much” crowd.
        The Federalist Party and Hamilton were wealthy attorneys and business men.
        “The Federalist Party was one of the first two political parties in U.S history. … Hamilton and his associates, typically urban bankers and businessmen, then formed the Federalist Party to promote their shared political ideas.Federalists believed in a centralized national government with strong fiscal roots.
        The Federalists wanted a strong governmentand strong executive branch, while the anti-Federalists wanted a weaker central government. The Federalists did not want a bill of rights —they thought the new constitution was sufficient.
        Many Anti-Federalists preferred a weak central government because they equated a strong government with British tyranny. Others wanted to encourage democracy and feared a strong government that would be dominated by the wealthy. They felt that the states were giving up too much power to the new federal government.”
        To support his views A.Hamilton started the post which is a lot like the National Equirer for the GOP.
        Where do you think we would be without our bill of rights?
        You can blame the bill of rights on the Democrats too, cause without their fight we would have little rights to the corporate governance that has been around since 1776.

      • Also Bryan,
        I wonder who you are really as a person and what is driving you to bash D’s in 90% of your comments?
        Which right wing support group do you work with?
        Are U even Alaskan?
        The difference with the rest of commentary is we shair a common bond to AK…(fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, rafting, biking, hiking, skiing, snowmachine, dog sports, homesteading, gardening).
        You never have ANY anecdotal stories to add to the discussion which tells me you have little good experience in AK to share.
        If I am wrong, maybe U can enlightened me as to what if any value you are adding to these discussions?

      • Steve, what troubles me about you is your comparison between the Democrat Party of today to the Democrat Party of yesterday.
        Also, how you draw comparisons between Alexander Hamilton and an article in the NY Post and call it “hate” and “division” is beyond me.
        After witnessing your drudging of Opinion and posting his name here and there, the less you know about me the better. Not only is it none of your business, it is just plain stalkerish. I will let on that I despise the Democrat Party of today because since the 70’s it has veered towards Marxism, Socialism, and Communisn. I say this because the party is littered with those that admit their association with such groups. In other words, they are ANTI-AMERICAN. I say this as well because Socialism, Marxism, and Communism is ANTI-AMERICAN. Bit clearer now?

    • Bryan: a) you’re stereotyping. b.) Democrats don’t hate Jews or “wish them harm.” they have different views on the Mideast. one of those Democrats – Jimmy Carter – did a lot to settle the situation there. c.) are you accusing your uncle of self hatred simply because his views are more liberal than yours?

      • Opinion, yes, Margaret Sanger. The racist founder of Planned Parenthood who is celebrated by all forms of Democrats to this day. The violent left mobs we see today are not republicans. I feel comfortable generalizing because how can you vote in leaders if you do not share their views? Also: “For the first time in more than a decade, Democrats have a more positive view of socialism than they do of capitalism, a new poll said Monday.

        Attitudes toward socialism among Democrats have not changed much since 2010, with 57 percent view it positively, according to the Gallup survey.

        “The major change among Democrats has been a less upbeat attitude toward capitalism, dropping to 47 percent positive this year — lower than in any of the three previous measures,” according to a statement from Gallup breaking down the numbers.

        Republicans remain much more positive about capitalism than about socialism, with little change in their views of either since 2010.

        About 71 percent of GOP voters viewed capitalism positively while just 16 percent had a positive view of socialism.

        The numbers support the view voiced by observers on the left and right that the Democratic party is lurching left in response to President Trump’s policies, such as his attempt to dismantle Obamacare, tax cuts that largely benefit big business and the rich and hardline immigration stance.

        Socialist Bernie Sanders competitively challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, winning 43 percent of the vote compared to 55 percent for the former first lady.

        And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described Democratic Socialist, won the Democratic nomination in a Queens congressional district against the entrenched incumbent, Rep. Joe Crowley, who is also the borough’s party boss.

        Gallup’s question did not define “socialism” or “capitalism” but only asked voters whether their opinion of each was positive or negative.

        As could be expected, younger Democratic voters had a less favorable opinion of capitalism than than did their elders.”

      • Brian. Generalizations cause inaccuracies which cause people to ignore important information you are passionate about. Generalizations also cause division unesasarily . I know some hard core democrats good indipendent people who refuse government handouts and wouldn’t touch abortion with a 109 ft pole . They are closer to the pure side of socialism which is actually has many honorable aspects. It’s very separate from politics. The point you missed is that media and our misleading government heads are misleading and using information in an unbalanced purposeful way to get what they want from easily led citizens who forgot how to think indipendantly and ignore sensesationalism news and misinformation.

      • Opinion, cannot dispite what you said other than why are these people still Democrat if they are against their priciples? I agree with the corrupt Oligarchy. But, I also place blame on the ignorant electorate.

    • Bryan . You confuse Democrats with the Democratic Party heads who really are not even Democrats . These heads are just pushing the party by manipulation of information in the direction they want it to go . These heads are owned men and women. You need to try and differentiate between a Democratic citizen and our current democratic leaders who are completely influenced by big money and are in no way anything except crooks that take advantage of good democrats. Take a look at the law suit against the leaders of the democratic national party . They illegally funneled money to Hillary Clinton to bypass maximum contributions. They used dirty tricks in combination with the media to steal the Democratic nomination from Burnie sanders . They probably even had people killed to cover their mess up . Hillary and Obama ,Feinstein and many others are taking soros , Russian , Chinese ,Mid East ,reconstruction contractors defense contractors and big techs money. At Times illegally and at times legally and almost never with the best future of America in mind . Their plan is to enrich themselves and centralize power . These crooks are not representative of the Democratic Party . I’m sure there are many heads of the Republican Party nearly as bad . Right now the balance of more honest good leaders is in the Republican Party . Apparently Nunes , rand paul and Jordan . Perhaps others .But you cannot paint the Democrats with the dirty brush many of their leaders are touched by . If you are truly knowledgeable you should give us the exact facts of the miscreant political leaders and their backers and not paint a whole party inaccurately. There is so much information out there . Though I will give you the benefit – Democrats have the closest ties to slavery . Also their socialist policies have the largest connection to the Nazis of the past – from promises of a basic welfare state to their research and associates being closely connected to abortion and harvesting of baby parts . Singer or Sanger was it ? One of the Democrats largest money donors is soros was a nazi colaborator who stole from and tatted out his own Jewish people and has no regrets per his own statement. So yes Democrats as a party have some very questionable aspects. The problem is Democrat citizens are not the heads of the party . Just the same as bush led America into war with dirty politics and truth twisting. The Republican citizens can’t be painted with the demonic paint covering bush Rumsfeld and Cheney . Who have caused over a million deaths. Please differentiate and give us facts to chew on . Thanks

      • Steve there is a bit of accuracy to what Bryan says . It just needs looked at closer to undstand . Not everyone is a gifted communicator or writer. Especially myself. Just like Micheal Jordan may not be a great coach but man does he know basketball. As to what Bryan contributes here – it’s actually a lot . Alternative opinions are imperative to get at the base fact of the matter . So it doesn’t matter if he’s not from Alaska , which I don’t know don’t care . His thoughts are interesting. They demand contemplation and research. Truly a good thing . That said he should not be on purpose try and twist information to mislead citizens. Hopefully he is not on purpose. I for one like differing opinions. As long as they do not come with violent actions or feelings. I for one am surprised with how much each person brings to this site .

      • Opinion,
        I will try and stay off this website.
        Craig is a good writer, but right wing nut jobs are losing the potential for any meaningful contributions to the Alaskan community.
        Yes, I think it matters that Bryan is probably out of state and working as a political operative to bash Democrats before our November elections.
        Remember over 1.7 million will be spent to try and keep Begich out of office.
        I am more interested in world and national news feeds.
        Podcasts from NYT are very informative without the constant bashing of party ideas….
        Have a good fall!

      • Steve, you call me “right-wing” but listen to the NYT podcasts? Does it get any more left leanimg than that? So, that makes you a “left-winger” no? I enjoy debate. I am not one to be the one that throws gas on hot embers but, I do enjoy a healthy debate. If something I post is wrong, then by all means point it out for further clarification. If you are just a rabid left-winger then nothing anybody says makes sense. I post from a cell so my grammer is off and details may be lacking so I apologize and have in the past. I thini I have made decent cases for my positions and they are “refuted” because one dislikes Trump and they do not even know why. Certainly hope Steve you don’t go anywhere. You add “color” to the “comments”.

    • Maybe you dont remember the days of Bill Allen sitting in the house chambers.
      To my knowledge,Ethan was the one voice who stood up and called BS.
      Which of course fell on deaf ears in the republican controlled house.
      Things were even more corrupt on the senate side under Ben Stephens(u know Teds son).
      When Lyda greene took the gavel, she basically said(as I remember it) “Shucks, didn’t know that was going on”

      dave mc

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