Sam Jaffee (1888 - 1978) A Biography
In Loving Memory of B'nai Abraham Synagogue's Shamus and Acting Rabbi
Dr. Harvey I. Kaufman and Sandra Kaufman Harris
So much has been given to life and to Jewish heritage in particular by individuals who possessed no fancy letters before or after their names; individuals who were non obtrusive, composed, and quiet. Of blessed memory (OBM), such a man is Sam Jaffee, who led the Virginia, Minnesota Jewish Congregation for so many years. He was the teacher for so many of us who ultimately achieved Bar Mitzvah under his tutorage. In behalf of all of Mr. Jaffee's former students, we now award Sam Jaffee with the honorary title of Rabbi Jaffee. Memories of his davening and chanting remain as a part of the legacy of many Virginians.
Traditional style ritual hat (kippah)
worn by Sam Jaffee
We do not have a photograph of Sam Jaffee. If you have his photo would you contact B'nai Abraham.
Mr. Jaffee's approach to being entrusted with much of the Yiddish heritage in Virginia, Minnesota, for many years, was a quiet one. Because of this, he left no written legacy of accomplishments or autobiographical notes. Special thanks go out to Our cousin, Dr. Jani Richards, Mr. Jaffee's great niece, who found a way to reach Eleanor Jaffee Reisman, Mr. Jaffee's daughter. Jani contacted Eleanor, and was granted permission for us to contact Eleanor in order to interview her. What a delightful woman is she! And just a wealth of information. Thank you so much, Eleanor, for sharing so much information about your father with all of us.
Indeed, Sam Jaffee was a quiet and private man who was known to all of the Jewish Children of Virginia, MN. He was known as our spiritual leader and as our religious school teacher. He was truly an important part of the Virginia Jewish Community and it's history. The young boys saw Mr. Jaffee, as scheduled within each week, in preparation for their upcoming Bar Mitzvahs. All of the grade school aged children saw him every Wednesday afternoon throughout the school year, when we were excused from our regular schools to attend religious classes at our own synagogue or churches.
In Europe, in the late 1800's, birth dates were rarely recorded; instead, a child's birth was remembered in such ways as in the spring, near Passover, on the third day of Hanukkah, and so on. Sam Jaffee was born in the summer of 1888; upon needing an official birth date in America, August 15, 1888 became the chosen date for his birthday.
Sam spent his youth growing up in Kurkel, a small village in Lithuania, which was at that time a part of the Russian Empire. Once old enough to begin his formal Jewish studies, Sam was sent to a Yeshiva in Vilna, Lithuania to study.
By the very early 1900's, some of Sam's sisters had already immigrated to the United States, and Sam was given the opportunity to come to the United States to join his sisters, and to hopefully find a better life here. One of those sisters Lyba Jaffee Edelstein already had her own little family. Sam came to the U.S.A. in 1908, by way of Winnipeg, Canada; then continued south into the U.S.A. and thus to Hibbing, MN. where his sister was residing. Benjamin Edelstein owned a successful furniture store in Hibbing, and he and his wife welcomed Sam and introduced him to his new life in this country.
The future Mrs. Jaffee, Ida Miller also came to the United States from Vilna, Lithuania; but it wasn't until they were both living in Hibbing, MN that Sam met Ida. On January 1, 1913 Sam and Ida were married. A son, Martin, was subsequently born to this young married couple. They continued living in Hibbing until Martin was about two years old; then Circa 1915 they moved to Virginia, MN., where Sam opened a new and used furniture store.
At about this same time, there was unrest and violence in Lithuania, with World War I taking its toll in Europe, with pogroms and killings. Sam and Ida were not aware of what was going on in Lithuania UNTIL AFTER WORLD WAR I. During this time period, however, both of Sam's parents died within three weeks of one another in Lithuania. It was said that they died from pneumonia, but it is more likely that they died of starvation.
Eleanor told us that according to what her father had told her, his parents died sometime between 1915 and 1916. His sister, Pearl Jaffee, was still living in Lithuania. She had the responsibility of burying her deceased parents. It is of note, that Sam's sister, Pearl Jaffee came to America in March of 1922. She met and married our Great Uncle, Louis Cohen. Now Sam had a sister living in the same city as he.
In that same year, in May of 1922 the stork visited Sam and Ida Jaffee one more time; their daughter, Eleanor Jaffee (Reisman) was born. Eleanor moved away from Virginia in order to go to college/nursing school. She eventually married Allen Reisman, and they had one son, Mark.
Since Sam was Yeshiva trained, he was asked by the Virginia B'nai Abraham Synagogue's Board to be in charge of the Virginia Shul as its Shamus, but not as a paid employee of the synagogue at this time. He acted as the Shamus out of kindness to the Jewish Community, and out of respect for his Judaism. There were about sixty Jewish Families in the Virginia area at this time. It was a VERY active Jewish community, especially for such a small town.
However, The Depression soon began to hit, and it hit hard. Mr. Jaffee's furniture store was affected by these times. He considered closing his furniture store and moving his family elsewhere to find work; he closed its doors in 1933. Fortunately, the Synagogue's Board approached him and asked if he would consider remaining at the B'nai Abraham Synagogue in a paid position. He continued on with the Shamus duties, but he also became the Rabbi, The Bar Mitzvah teacher, and the person who led services every Friday evening and Saturday morning. He also led services for all of the other Jewish Holidays, for baby namings and funerals, and to assist along side the mohel for brises.
By the late 50's Ida Jaffee's health was failing. Sam left his position at the Virginia Shul, and in 1957 or 1958 Sam retired, and he and Ida moved to California. They chose California, because other extended family members were living there or had already retired there. Once settled in their home in California, Sam began attending the Kenneseth Israel (conservative) Synagogue located on Vermont Avenue and Fountain Street in the Hollywood area of L.A. Within a very short time, he was hired to work at Kenneseth Israel in much the same capacity in which he had formerly worked at B'nai Abraham in Virginia. He worked there as the spiritual leader from about 1958 until he retired from that position in 1972.
While Sam and Ida resided in California, Ida was getting sicker and sicker, so Eleanor seemed to be constantly flying back and forth from her home in Chicago to her parents' home in L.A. in order to see her parents and to check on their health situation (especially that of her mom). Finally, in 1961, Eleanor and her husband, Allen, decided that it would be best for all concerned if they moved out to California to live nearer to her parents. They moved and bought a home right next door to Sam and Ida.
Unfortunately, Ida passed away in 1967, on the first day of The Six Day War. Once Ida died, Eleanor and her husband, Allen, took Sam in to live with them. Sam continued to reside with Eleanor and Allen until his death in June of 1978. Mr. Jaffee was two months short of his ninetieth birthday when he passed away.
Sam and Ida's son, Martin, died in 2007 in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the age of ninety-three.
Eleanor, age 85, and her husband, Allen, are now retired and enjoying their life in Aberdeen, Washington. They are loving the fact that they are now living near their son and his family.
editor's note: Ritual leadership after Sam Jaffee's years in Virginia.
The Virginia Congregation often hired rabbinical students to lead services
for the High Holidays from the time that Mr. Jaffee left the congregation in
about 1958 until the fall of 1972. Starting in 1972 and continuing on
through the Fall of 1995, Jeffrey Freidson, who was then an extended
member of Virginia’s Milavetz Family living in Minneapolis, would come
up to Virginia and the B’nai Abraham Synagogue to lead the High Holiday
Services. He became highly respected for his leadership, commitment and
service to the Virginia Jewish Community.