A South Dakota Jew became a powerhouse of the Zionist movement

Book review: When unremarkable is remarkable

US NAVY F/A-18E Super Hornets conduct a fly-by of South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore in 2006 (photo credit: ANTHONY DOBSON-US NAVY/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
US NAVY F/A-18E Super Hornets conduct a fly-by of South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore in 2006
T he Question is “Why?” Stanford M. Adlestein: A Jewish Life in South Dakota by Eric Steven Zimmer is about Stanford M. Adelstein, a Jewish South Dakota philanthropist. The book, published by Vantage Point Press in August, follows Stan’s life from his grandparents’ arrival in American in the 1890s to his 80s in the 2010s. In many ways, Stan’s story is unremarkable, and some would say that is what makes it remarkable.
Stan’s immigrant grandparents were like many Russian Jewish immigrants to the United States in the late 1800s. They came to America to escape antisemitism and economic uncertainty under the czar. Stan’s paternal grandmother, Bertha Cohen Edelstein Martinsky, was a huge influence on his life. Divorced twice, she raised her five children (four girls and one boy – Morris, Stan’s father) on her own. For a while she homesteaded and finally opened a dry goods store in Kodaka, South Dakota. Not only did she learn Lakota to speak to her Lakota clients, she taught her children and grandchildren to not stereotype people. This had a profound affect on how Stan worked with people as an adult.
Stan’s father, Morris, enlisted in the army and served in France during the First World War. Morris was one of the few Jews during the war to receive a field commission. It was Morris, who during the 1920s, began the Northwest Engineering Company (NWE) with L.A. Pier. Headquartered in Rapid City, South Dakota, where Stan was born, the business blossomed and NWE and Morris became an important part of Rapid City’s development.
Stan’s maternal grandparents were also merchants. They were so well known in Sioux City, Iowa that when Stan took the train to visit them, at every stop someone would give him a treat and message for his grandparents Aaron and Julia Greenberg.
Stan attend the University of Colorado and followed in his father’s footsteps by earning an engineering degree. Before he graduated, Stan married Ita Korn. She worked as a school teacher to support them while he finished school, and then Stan joined the military. There he was a civil engineer. While he enjoyed the work, Ita detested military life. So, Stan left the military and they moved to Rapid City.
As a Polish Holocaust refugee, Ita renewed Stan’s interest in Judaism, Zionism and philanthropy. Stan had attended an Orthodox synagogue in Sioux City with his grandfather Aaron, but there was no synagogue where he grew up. Ita and Stan joined whatever Jewish group there was where ever Stan was stationed. Rabbi Messing, who Stan and Ita met at Fort Lewis, Washington, encouraged Stan along his political and philanthropic path.
Because of his grandmother’s respect for the Native Americans, Stan was a founder of the Journey Museum in Rapid City that focuses on the story of the American Plains beginning with the Lakota experience. He became a state representative as a Republican. He was also a great supporter of the Synagogue of the Hills in Deadwood, South Dakota and encouraged its move to Rapid City, where it could better flourish.
After meeting then-Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion, Stan’s life was changed. The heart of this book is about Stan’s response to Ben-Gurion’s question of “why.” The book follows Stan’s managing of the family business and rise in the Republican Party. What this book is about is how a truly unremarkable man, Stan Adelstein, became a political powerhouse in South Dakota and the American Zionist movement.
Unremarkable stories are remarkable because they show the reader how they too can change the world. However, the book drags on through details and plods on about the amazing people Stan met. It is much more a biography that family and friends will love, but most readers won’t. As an exercise in introspection about how life can take one on amazing paths, it is wonderful. The language isn’t difficult and the prose is pleasant, but without some initial connection to the hero of the story, it just doesn’t seem relevant or worth the 308 pages. It is interesting to see how the author mixed Stan’s voice into the story, but an article-length biography would have sufficed for most of us.
In no way should this review be read as belittling the man Stan Adelstein and his political and social actions, rather the impulse of Stan to have his story told results in reflections on who and what he deemed important, not what the reader might find important. Those like myself who are interested in South Dakota Jewish or political history need a copy, as do Stan’s family and friends. The rest of the world of readers, probably not, unless you are a voracious biography reader.