Passover in Iowa

Shaare Zion Records, Iowa Women’s Archives.



Shaare Zion Records, Iowa Women’s Archives.

























What makes this night different from all other nights? That’s a good question, and one that has been asked by generations of children celebrating the Passover or Pesah, the Festival of Spring. According to the Reuben family’s 1958 copy of The Jewish Home Beautiful, “Pesah tells of the rebirth of a nation, the redemption from slavery to freedom, the restoration to the disinherited among men of their God-given rights to life and liberty. […] Pesah is so called because of the Biblical account regarding the angel of Death who passed over the homes of the Israelites” (28).

Sandra Reuben recalls Passover fondly in her article, “Recollections of Growing up Jewish in Forest City, Iowa”:

“My Mother, Lillian Reuben, usually hosted our extended Iowa family for seders in Forest City. . . With my Dad and two sisters, Marlene and Joanie, we fit 16 people around tables that filled the entire living room. Then add Jenny and Meier Friedman, the only other Jews in our small “Norwegian” city. It was a challenge for my Mother to cook the traditional foods as Forest City had no stores that carried Passover foods. The matzo, matzo meal and other foods were brought from the Kropman grocery store in Mason City. . .some 30 miles away. Grandma came from Mason City to help Mother make gefilte fish from scratch, clean and roast the chickens, make the haroses, simmer the chicken soup band matzo balls and produce the rest of the traditional dishes. Years later my cousin Elinor (Elly) remembers these seders as an important foundation for our Jewish family.”

Reuben’s account of the Passover seder is not so unusual for residents of Iowa in the 1950’s. To this day, Jewish communities still make up a relatively small percentage of the overall Iowa population, but this has not deterred the traditional celebrations from taking place with ample amounts of attention and preparation. Throughout Iowa history, Jewish women have played important roles in community and family life, maintaining cultural and religious traditions, working in businesses and on farms, and participating in civic life. The documents and images included here were gathered from 2014-2017 as part of the Jewish Women in Iowa project at the Iowa Women’s Archives.

Lebowich Family seder. Ruth Lebowich papers, Iowa Women’s Archives.


Article by Heidi Stofer.

Zayetzy Luna

International Women’s Day

Zayetzy Luna

I am sister, I am daughter,

I am mother, I am wife.

I am all the women in my lineage,

their triumphs and mistakes my birthright.

This post and poem were written by Zayetzy Luna Garcia, student worker at the Iowa Women’s Archives


Family unity is the center of Latinx culture. It is our base, our guide and our future. However, sometimes, we forget the glue that really keeps our family together: our mothers. While today is not Mother’s Day, it is International Women’s Day and being a mother is a challenge many women still choose to take on today. To celebrate the strength and beauty of Latinx women in Iowa, we present to you some excerpts and photos from the Migration is Beautiful website at the Iowa Women’s Archives in the University of Iowa Libraries.


Maria Mercedes “Mercy” Aguilera (1936-2013)

Despite her years of experience, many factories dismissed her applications. When she applied to work at International Harvester’s Farmall tractor plant, they refused her application on the basis that they believed Mexican women were too short to work on the assembly line.

Victoria Manrique Bata (born 1924)

We joined the craft club and then afterwards I can’t remember who the director was and they asked me if I’d be on the board…I was the only Mexican…All the clubs, like my sewing guild, my quilt guild, the PTA, we went wherever the Mexican people just did not.

Named YWCA Woman of the Year in 1979.

Mary Domingues Campos (born 1929)

“We were the first multi-cultural doctor’s office,” Mary remembered. “He was black and I was brown. And we serviced everybody, pink, yellow, blue, whatever color. We had the first bilingual medical practice that I know of here in Des Moines.



These women took head on the challenge of being Latina in place and time where being a brown woman was not easy. Not only did they persistently fight for their own rights, but they instilled a sense of justice, compassion and honor into their children who would go on to continue fight for women’s and Latinx rights in Iowa and across the country.

These are just a few stories of our hidden Latina history in Iowa. Feel free to continue to be inspired by reading more amazing Latina stories at the Migration is Beautiful website.