IJHS Mission

The mission of the Iowa Jewish Historical Society is to collect, catalogue, house, and preserve the history of the Jewish people of the state of Iowa and to deepen community understanding of Jewish history and culture through educational programming and exhibitions.

Celebrating Our 20th Anniversary

The Iowa Jewish Historical Society Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary with Gift of $1 Million from Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan in Memory of her Mother, Melva Bucksbaum

On September 18, people from a three-state region enjoyed an elegant dinner and a thought-provoking, inspirational speech by Rabbi Barry Cytron to celebrate the Iowa Jewish Historical Society’s 20th anniversary.

Rabbi Cytron, who served as the congregational rabbi at Tifereth Israel from 1972-1983, spoke on the importance of preserving the nearly 200 year-old history of Iowa Jewry. He personalized the meaning of that history through people he knew whose stories are preserved in the museum—Irvin, Phyllis, and Celina Karp, who survived the Holocaust by being placed on Schindler’s list and came to Iowa “for a better tomorrow,” David Belin, a member of the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy, and many more.

Capping the evening off was the announcement of a gift of $1 million made by Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan in memory of her mother, Melva Bucksbaum.

Mary has long been a major supporter of the Iowa Jewish Historical Society and the Federation, having previously given the funds to create and endow the Martin Bucksbaum Arts Wing.

In making the gift, Mary said: “I made this gift in memory of my mom to honor her love of Des Moines and all of her wonderful friends who are part of this Jewish community. No matter where she was, this was always the place she considered her home. This gift will help preserve the history of Des Moines and the statewide Jewish community that she loved.”

In recognition of Mary’s extraordinary gift, the Martin Bucksbaum Arts Wing is being renamed the Melva and Martin Bucksbaum Arts Wing.

Mary’s gift was made to kick off a year-long $1.5 million fund drive to ensure that the Historical Society has a solid base for ongoing preservation and education projects as well as special projects that the board and staff identify in the coming years.

Co-President Robbie Winick expressed the Historical Society’s appreciation for Mary’s generosity:

All of us on the board of the Iowa Jewish Historical Society and everyone who enjoys visiting the museum and participating in its programs are so thankful to Mary for this gift. She has helped us kick off our $1.5 million fundraising campaign that will secure the future of IJHS and enable us to connect with new audiences, provide even better care of the treasures in our collection, and preserve the history of the Jewish people in Iowa for future generations.

The interest from Mary’s gift will help with annual projects and staffing. We must raise the additional $500,000 to complete the special projects that will enable us to create exciting new exhibits, build specialized storage areas for our collections, record new oral histories of our statewide Jewish community, and so much more.

The IJHS is very grateful to everyone who attended this event or supported it financially and Rabbi Cytron, the IJHS Board and staff, the Federation staff, and Susan Madorsky, all of whom worked so hard to make this event such a success.

IJHS Collection Now On-Line

Iowa Jewish Historical Society now has our collection on-line.

The Iowa Jewish Historical Society collection is now online! Use the search bar to explore our holdings.

The IJHS is still inventorying and digitizing its expansive artifact collection and archives. Thank you for you patience; this is an ongoing project and new records will be uploaded periodically.

This project was made possible by generous grants from the Beverly Blank Perry Foundation and the State Historical Society of Iowa's Historical Resource Development Program.

IJHS Awarded $21,430 Grant

The Iowa Jewish Historical Society received a grant of $21,430 in July 2015 from the REAP/Historical Resources Development Program (HRDP) administered by the State Historical Society of Iowa.

The funds are being used to preserve hundreds of interviews done with members of the statewide Jewish community from the 1970s to 2006 along with original TV shows produced by the Federation and tapes of special occasions in the history of the Jewish community in Iowa. These interviews are on audio and video tapes that are too old to pop into a cassette player or VCR. Each tape has to be carefully digitized by a professional with specialized equipment before we can listen to the tapes and provide access to these personal, community, and world histories.

Some of the 500+ oral history interviews, Light One Candle television programs, and tapes of community events that need to be digitized.
The tapes contain a wealth of untapped information. All are one-of-a-kind interviews that provide personal perspectives and insight into Jewish life—i.e., religious beliefs and practices, “outside” events that had an impact on the Jewish community, personal accounts of anti-Semitism, life in Nazi Germany, World War II, the Holocaust, immigration to the U.S, and daily life.

But these descriptions of the materials on the tapes are just the tip of the iceberg! Most of these tapes originated before the Historical Society was formed and, most likely, contain information about Iowa’s Jewish heritage that does not exist in any other format!

The grant covers a two-year period and requires the Historical Society to raise more than $12,500 as the cash match it pledged as part of the grant.

The grant funds will be used for the first phase of the project—digitizing hundreds of the taped interviews, creating summaries of the information on each tape, and making a list of the tapes and summaries available on the web. Later phases, which will have to be funded separately, will complete the digitization of all the tapes and make excerpts and full copies of the tapes available to the public.

Screen shot of interview with Rose Lee and Marvin Pomerantz that has been digitized as part of this project.
So far, the IJHS has digitized more than 90 oral history interviews from 1979 through 2006. Excerpts from the tapes have been used for presentations to students studying the Holocaust, for research for current exhibits, and for articles for the Jewish Press.

Donations to help with the required match are needed. Please mail your gift to IJHS, 33158 Ute Ave., Waukee, IA 50263 with a notation that the funds are to be used for this project. Thank you!

If you have questions about the project, please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call us at 515-987-0899 ext. 216.

IJHS History

The idea of an Iowa Jewish Historical Society was first discussed in 1989 at the 75th Anniversary dinner of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines.  The Caspe Jewish Heritage Gallery was opened at Drake University in October 1996.  Drake donated exhibition space on the 3rd floor of the Harmon Fine Arts Building and Lewis and Neecy Caspe of Des Moines made a very generous donation to turn the space into an exhibit gallery.

In May 1998, the IJHS teamed with the State Historical Society of Iowa to develop and present a traveling exhibit created by the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest and the Minnesota Historical Society “Unpacking on the Prairie: Jewish Women in the Upper Midwest Since 1855”.  Accompanying this exhibit was a companion exhibit developed by IJHS entitled “Unpacking: The Iowa Story” which was guest curated by founding IJHS member Dr. David Gradwohl,  Professor Emeritus Iowa State University.  Originally slated to run from May through July, “Iowa Story” continued on exhibit through December 31 1998. The exhibit was viewed by more than 30,000 visitors to the State Historical Museum.

In 1998 the IJHS recieved a $42,555 Historic Site Preservation Grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa.  This grant enabled the IJHS to build new exhibit cases, and improve the lighting, security and fire alarm system at The Caspe Heritage Gallery.   This grant was matched by the Iowa Foundation for Education, Environment, and the Arts and the Belin Family in memory of David and Connie Belin.

IJHS Archives

  1. Communal Life:
  • Jewish organizational papers, artifacts and photographs –synagogues, sisterhoods, men’s and young peoples clubs
  • Artifacts from synagogues no longer in existence, such as Beth El Synagogue in Fort Dodge, and Children of Israel, which was in Des Moines.
  • Personal and Family Artifacts – photographs, books, personal papers, clothing- items from their lives.
  • Business Memorabilia
  • Holocaust Memorabilia
  • IJHS The Caspe Heritage Gallery

    The Caspe Heritage Gallery and The Bucksbaum Fine Arts Wing were donated by Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan in memory of her father Martin Bucksbaum.  It is located at 33158 Ute Avenue in Waukee, and is part of The Caspe Terrace.  The gallery is handicap accessible.  The Bucksbaum auditorium seats over 130 and provides a lovely space for films, speakers and live presentations.

    Since opening at the Caspe Terrace in 2003, the IJHS has also sponsored a traveling exhibit, "Far from Hitler: The Scattergood Hostel for European Refugees" in 2004 at the Caspe Terrace.  The exhibit then traveled to two other destinations in the state.

    Join Now!

    Your annual membership to the Iowa Jewish Historical Society will help preserve the history and irreplaceable treasures of the Jewish people of Iowa!

    As we celebrate nearly 200 years of Jewish life in Iowa, your support of the Iowa Jewish Historical Society can make a very real difference. Without your help and financial support, the stories of Jewish life in Iowa and the documents and artifacts that we preserve could be lost to future generations. Your tax-deductible membership enables us to continue this important work. Members are crucial to the Iowa Jewish Historical Society’s success.

    Use our convenient on-line form to get an annual membership with a credit card or mail your check today to: IJHS 33158 Ute Ave. Waukee, IA 50263-7538

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