“Reverend” Benjamin Papermaster North Dakota’s Jewish Spiritual Leader

“Reverend” Benjamin Papermaster

"Reverend" Benjamin Papermaster & Anna Levito's Wedding Photo at Grand Forks, North Dakota, 1892 #WS0230.

“Reverend” Benjamin Papermaster & Anna Levito’s Wedding Photo at Grand Forks, North Dakota, 1892  #WS0230.

Values Codes  I-H-E-L-P


Benjamin Papermaster was born in 1860 in Anolova, near Lovno, Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire.


Rabbi Benjamin Papermaster received his smicha (Rabbinic Ordination) at the age of 18.


Rabbi Benjamin Papermaster was also trained as a mohel (circumcisions), a schochet (ritual slaughterer, and a Cantor.


In 1890, Rabbi Benjamin Papermaster was called to Kovno by the Chief Rabbi, where he was intoduced to the Zurakov family who were going to American and wanted a trained rabbi for their community.

The Chief Rabbi told Rabbi Papermaster that it was his duty to go and help this new American community develop spiritually.


Along the way . . .

Rabbi Benjamin Papermaster arrived in New York early, in 1891, and headed West to Fargo, North Dakota where he immediately applied to start the process for citizenship which he received in 1896 in Grand Forks, North Dakota.


His family was to follow when he was established.


Arriving in Fargo, North Dakota with his luggage and a Safer Torah, Benjamin Papermaster found a Jewish community of about 15 families.


Rabbi Benjamin Papermaster moved shortly  to Grand Forks, just north of Fargo, where there were about 70 Jewish families.


Upon his arrival, the Jewish Community quickly organized a congregation, named it Congregation of the Children of Israel, and rented a hall downtown for the High Holy Days.

The Congregation was later renamed B’nai Israel.



"Reverend Papaermaster, his 8 sons and first grandson, Grand Forks, ND, 1908. #WS0231

“Reverend Papaermaster, his 8 sons and first grandson, Grand Forks, ND, 1908.

Grand Foks, North Dakota would be Reverend Benjamin Papermaster’s “base of operations” for the next 53 years.


"Reverend" Papermaster, Grand Forks, ND, 1916. #WS0232

“Reverend” Papermaster, Grand Forks, ND, 1916. #WS0232

For most of the time Reverend Benjamin Papermaster was the only Rabbi in North Dakota and Western Minnesota.

In the tradition of the times, he preferred the title of “Reverend” instead of “Rabbi.”


In 1895 he accepted a position in Sioux City Iowa with a much larger congregation, but changed his mind at the last moment.

His son says that he decided to keep his promise to the Chief Rabbi of Kovno who sent him to American to fill the spiritual needs of the Jews of North Dakota.

(Congregation Children of Israel also found a way to increase his stipends.)


After having a dispute with his synagogue board over a ritual matter, Reverend Benjamin Papermaster asked to drop his salary and go on a pay-for-services basis: each service, each bris, each wedding, each funeral, etc.

It was a tradition he carried on the rest of his life.


Reverend Benjamin Papermaster was highly respected by all the clergy of North Dakota, many of whom studied Hebrew with him.



Reverend Benjamin Papermaster married Ethel Sudarsky in Lithuania in 1880.

Together they had four sons, Nathan, Isadore, Herman and Samuel.

Ethel Papermaster passed away in 1891, never seeing America.


A second marriage was arranged long distance to Anna Leviton, with the understanding that she would have the four boys to raise.

Congregants and members of Papermaster’s family all chipped in to bring the bride and the four boys from Lithuania to Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Benjamin and Anna had four additional boys and three daughters: Leah, Zelda and Hazel.


Reverend Benjamin Papermaster passed away in 1934 from a heart attack, a spiritual legend in North Dakota.



For more information see a Three Part extended article in Western States Jewish History:

  • A History of North Dakota Jewry and their Pioneer Rabbi, by Isadore Papermater, Vol X, #1, 2 & 3.
  • Thank you to John Ostfield, Papermaster’s youngest grandson for more family information.

Click on Photos to enlarge.