Publisher note from Suzzanne Kelley
Sometimes a first-time author strikes gold. Such is the way with Rebecca Bender, whose book, Still (NDSU Press, 2019), has been raking in the awards and whose essays and poems are now seeing publication in national newsletters and magazines. Much to her (and our) delight, her work is even cited in other works of scholarship, such as historian David Moon’s The American Steppes: The Unexpected Russian Roots of Great Plains Agriculture, 1870s-1930s (Cambridge University Press, 2020).
Rebecca recently won the Gold Medal in the category of Religion & Philosophy from the Midwest Independent Publishers Association’s Midwest Book Awards. Prizewinners compete in a twelve-state region, so her recognition is phenomenal. Still also won First Place in the internationally-competitive Independent Press Award for Judaism.
Rebecca will be the first to tell you that she did not win these awards on her own. She shares authorship with her late father, Kenneth M. Bender (1916-2006). During the last two years of his life, he hand-wrote page after page of his vivid memories. Rebecca typed up his notes with the agreed-upon compensation at the end of each of their working sessions: a shared chocolate milkshake. His and her memories, her exhaustive research and attention to detail reveal a splendid little-known history of Jewish families on the northern plains.
I will be the first to tell you that Rebecca’s recognition is the result of hard work. I first met her as she and a community of celebrants from across the United States met in the town of Ashley, ND. Rebecca’s efforts had resulted in the successful nomination of the Ashley Jewish Cemetery to the National Register of Historic Places. Rebecca shared the fruits of her research that day in a wonderful story (that included a skit, a song, and a sit-down dinner). I expressed my hope that she would work on a larger project; I am grateful that she was already thinking along those lines.
A former securities litigator in Minnesota, Rebecca has always enjoyed history and hearing uplifting stories, taking pride in family and Jewish traditions, feeling gratefulness and appreciation for life in America, where she and her son are free to practice their religion and to work hard to achieve their goals.
You can read Rebecca’s most recent essay, published July 23, 2020, by the Jewish Book Council, here: Gold from the Prairie, by Rebecca E. Bender.
More than four hundred Russian and Romanian Jewish homesteaders settled on about eighty-five farms in McIntosh County, North Dakota, beginning in 1905. After clearing rocks and boulders, growing wheat and flax, raising cattle and chickens, and selling cream from their sod houses, most were successful enough to own their own land.
Still is a history of five generations, a family we meet first as they flee Odessa and last as they make their ways as American Jews…and as Dakota farmers, as students and storekeepers, as soldiers and lawyers, and even as a teen in an international competition who stands face-to-face with Netanyahu. Rebecca Bender and Kenneth Bender answer the question recently posed to Rebecca by a newspaper reporter: Are you still Jewish?
Still is available through online sites and at your favorite independent bookstore, as well as direct from North Dakota State University Press.
Nice. This post does justice to the quality of the work and the substance of the author. We are richer for having this story told.