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Idaho: The Gem State

More than just potatoes

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Think Idaho, and you’re likely to envision potatoes. While the state’s potato crop comprises around one-third of the national yield, Idaho’s draw lies in its vast natural beauty. With 4.8 million acres of public land, Idaho is home to forests, snow-capped mountains, lakes, and steep canyons. The state also produces 240 different minerals, including garnet, opal, and topaz. Its beauty and its bounty gave Idaho its nickname: the Gem State.

If, like many visitors, you’re passing through on a road trip to Grand Teton or Yellowstone, or on your way down to Utah or Nevada, take some time to enjoy Idaho’s twenty-five state parks, hundreds of mountain biking trails, and tens of wineries. Visit the tallest freestanding sand dunes in North America—the highest, at Bruneau Dunes State Park, reaches 470 feet—or attempt the Skyline Drive, an eighteen-mile-long unimproved road that rises through dense forests to spectacular vistas at McCroskey State Park. Make sure you come equipped if you venture into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. The more than two million acre area quite literally has no roads.

With crime rates close to zero, affordable housing, and a growing number of tech companies setting up shop in town, as well as easy access to all manner of outdoor activities, Boise, Idaho’s capital and largest city, was ranked the best place to live for millennials in 2019. Although COVID has slowed travel in the USA in general, Boise is seeing a further acceleration of new arrivals. 

Just as the population began to boom in 2017, Chabad-Lubavitch of Idaho purchased a 9,500 square foot property in the center of town to house the burgeoning Jewish community. Visit on the first Friday evening of every month, and you’ll find a lively and welcoming community gathered for services and dinner.

Idaho Facts:

Idaho’s Chabad reps: Rabbi Mendel and Esther Lifshitz and their children, Dovid, Zali, Mushka, Ari, Moshe, Chavi, Shaina, Rivka, Laya, and Menucha.

  • Population: Idaho – 1.8 million Boise – 750,000
  • Jewish population: Idaho – approx 3,000 Boise – 1,500
  • Chabad is the only traditional Jewish congregation in Idaho. Although every Friday night at the rabbi’s house is well attended, between fifty and one hundred people get together on First Fridays.
  • Though Jews have lived in the state for more than 130 years their number remains small. Idaho has no Jewish federation and there has never been a census of Idaho, or Boise’s Jewish population so numbers listed above are approximate.
  • Around half of Idaho’s population lives in Boise, and the same is true for its Jewish population. Each summer the Lifshitzes send roving rabbis to the cities, towns and even tiny villages where they only know of one or two Jews. They arrange for Passover seders in some of the more populous areas and field Jewish questions and requests from all over the state.
  • The first Jew identified to have set foot in the state was J.D. Farmer, who braved a gold-rush trail in January 1864, a month after Idaho was officially declared a territory.
  • In 1895, the first Jewish congregation in Idaho was established in Boise. Moses Alexander, who would later become mayor of the city and Idaho’s eleventh governor, was one of the founding members. When Idaho elected Alexander, they became the first state to elect a Jewish governor. 
  • The Lifshitzes can get many kosher products at local supermarkets, but they ship meat and dairy in from New York, or Los Angeles.
  • The closest mikvah is in Salt Lake City, Utah, a five-hour car ride or one-hour flight from Boise. The Lifshitzes have raised $135,000 in their $500,000 campaign to build a mikvah in Idaho.
  • Though Rabbi Mendel and Esther were likely the only visibly observant Jews that most Idahoans had met, when the couple arrived sixteen and a half years ago, they were received with typical Idahoan friendliness. Rabbi Mendel grew up in Cincinnati and studied in New York, Esther was raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. The couple say it took time to get used to how friendly people are in Idaho.

Have an idea of which Chabad community we should feature next? Let us know in the comments!

Comment 3
  • Shimon Salama

    Amazing progress in Idaho, but not surprising. As a baal teshuva in Cincinnati, I used to learn the Rebbe’s teachings with Mendy Lifshitz when he was still a bochur. He was a great teacher then, and must be a spectacular one now. I met their son when he visited Mequon WI, and was very impressed. Yesher koach and my you all go from strength to strength in the coming year, that the Rebbe promised will be a Year of revealed wonders (Areinu Pelaot).

  • Anna (Chana) Yemets

    What more perfect time to donate to the Boise Mikvah Campaign than now? Three T’s save a Jew this time a year – Teshuva, Tefilla, Tzeddaka… Am Yisrael Chai, Am Yisrael chai, Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael Chai.

  • Avraham Asher

    Chabad of Fairmount/Art Museum Area


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