Stanford M. Adelstein

Stanford M. Adelstein led his family’s heavy construction and real estate firm, the Northwestern Engineering Company, for decades. Along the way, Adelstein helped found the Synagogue of the Hills and was deeply involved in many Jewish advocacy organizations. A longtime philanthropist, civic activist, and political operative, he served in the South Dakota State Legislature for over a decade beginning in 2001. | (605)-718-7038 | Facebook


Eric Steven Zimmer

Author Eric Steven Zimmer, Ph.D., works on a variety of digital, exhibit-based, and narrative history projects at Vantage Point Historical Services, Inc. in Rapid City, South Dakota. His work has appeared in regional and national scholarly journals and media outlets, garnering several awards, including the Rachel Carson Prize for Best Dissertation from the American Society for Environmental History. Zimmer lives and writes in the Black Hills, alongside his lovely wife, Samantha, and their dog, Nigel.



Stanford M. Adelstein, a Jewish Life in South Dakota

Author: Eric Steven Zimmer
Preface by: Stanford M. Adelstein
Publisher: Vantage Point Press
ISBN: 978-0-9903972-5-0
Category: Nonfiction/Biography
Size: 6x9
Pages: 347
Format: Hardcover (ebook and audiobook also available)
Price: $28.50
Publication date: August 19, 2019
Media contacts: Erika Dreifus, Publicist ErikaDreifusBooks(at)gmail(dot)com



Stanford M. Adelstein, a Jewish Life in South Dakota

The Question is ‘Why?’ provides an intimate look at the life of a true statesman. Well into his ninth decade, Stanford Adelstein continues to live his values and impact society as an eminent South Dakotan, a proud American, and a Jew firmly rooted in his tradition and history. This is not only Adelstein’s personal history, but the story of one man’s impact on the world he lives in.”

Robin Doroshow, Executive Director
Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest

As a Jewish South Dakotan, Stanford M. “Stan” Adelstein has long encountered certain questions: “How did you end up there?” “There are Jews in South Dakota?!” He’s even had to explain where to find South Dakota on the map.

But when Adelstein met David Ben-Gurion in Israel in 1965, the former prime minister asked something else: “The question isn’t ‘where?’,” Ben-Gurion said. “The question is ‘why?’”

Caught off guard, Adelstein responded with what was in his heart: He told Ben-Gurion that carving out a life of purpose on the South Dakota plains was his mission as a Jew. He has spent the years since then living out this response, serving a stunning array of local, national, and international causes.

This book tells Adelstein’s story of family, faith, business, politics, and philanthropy. It provides new perspectives on recent American and world history and on the lives of Jewish people in rural places. And, arriving when many Americans are questioning our democracy’s durability, it inspires all who hope to improve their communities, their country, and the world.

Stanford M. Adelstein led his family’s heavy construction and real estate firm, the Northwestern Engineering Company, for decades. Along the way, Adelstein helped found the Synagogue of the Hills and was deeply involved in many Jewish advocacy organizations. A longtime philanthropist, civic activist, and political operative, he served in the South Dakota State Legislature for over a decade beginning in 2001.

Author Eric Steven Zimmer, Ph.D., works on a variety of digital, exhibit-based, and narrative history projects at Vantage Point Historical Services, Inc., in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Q&A with Stanford M. Adelstein

  1. What inspired this book/project?

    I’ve been fortunate to connect with many fascinating, talented people over the course of my life. As a result of these connections, I was lucky to be involved in some very special and impactful events and movements. They shaped my hometown (Rapid City) and my state (South Dakota) and the broader Jewish communities in the United States, Israel, and around the world. Over the years, I amassed dozens of interesting anecdotes about the people I met, the work we did, and my role in some fairly major historical moments. I’m getting on in years—I’ll turn 88 the day the book comes out—and over the last decade, family and friends had been telling me that I needed to get all these stories down in a book.

    After talking to an accomplished historian here in Rapid City named Eric Abrahamson, who has a company called Vantage Point History, we decided to give the book a go. He connected me to another historian named Eric Zimmer who had just moved back to town. He ended up writing the book, so that’s how it came to be.

    But I’d like to note one thing: When we set out, I didn’t really think we’d be doing a biography, or a book “about me.” Instead, I wanted a book that captured all of these anecdotes and coincidences from my life. After some early research, Eric and Eric convinced me that the book should be a biography. They said I was involved in so many different things that the only way for readers to follow the story was to use my life as an anchor to keep the story in line!

  2. Who do you see as the core audience for readers of this book?

    Anyone who cares about their community or their country. Again, my life is the vehicle for this story, not the inspiration. I’ve just been flabbergasted at the opportunities that have been available to me over the years. Throughout my life, I’ve been well aware of the fact that while I was growing up happy and content in South Dakota, more than half the Jewish children my age were suffering and dying under Hitler and Stalin on the other side of the world. The freedoms and opportunities presented by the great state of South Dakota and the United States of America allowed me to live, grow, learn, and get involved at all levels of politics and activism. There’s something very exceptional about this country, and my story is an example of those opportunities—both to build a life, no matter your background, and to change your community for the better.

    Other than that, I’d say there’s quite a bit of history tied to my story. In order to make the stories and experiences from my life resonate, Eric Zimmer drew heavily on broader historical stories. Anyone interested in the history of the Black Hills, South Dakota, United States politics, or of American Jewish history—especially as it relates to Jews in rural places—will learn something from this book.

  3. Why is this book especially relevant to read right now?

    I’ve never been shy about my politics, and I’m not going to start now. Like many people, I’m deeply concerned about the direction our country is headed. The current occupant of the White House has built a political following based on anger, fear, and bigotry. I’ve been a Republican my whole life, and I’m deeply troubled to see how far my party has moved from its roots in the last few decades. As a Jew who grew up in a very Christian state, I’ve faced and fought these kinds of issues my entire life. My story offers a broad view, reminding readers that we’ve seen patterns like the one we’re currently in play out before. By giving insights and behind-the-scenes examples about how business and political deals get made and how power moves through local, state, and national channels, The Question is “Why?” reminds readers that America's true opportunity and power rests in the ways it empowers us all to make changes. Get involved, get behind the scenes, and stand up for what you believe in!

  4. Can you explain the title of the book, The Question is “Why?”

    In 1965, my wife and I went to Israel along with 22 other young couples. It was the first mission trip to Israel organized by the American Jewish Committee (AJC). The goal was to introduce American and Israeli Jews and educate each other about our priorities. On that trip, our group met David Ben-Gurion, who had previously served as the first prime minister of Israel. Because there are so few Jewish people in South Dakota, most of the people I met at AJC meetings in New York, and certainly many of the folks we met in Israel, didn’t really know where Rapid City was. So, I had gotten used to explaining it to them, and even drew a little map of the U.S. with South Dakota and the Black Hills on it to show people. Well, when Ben-Gurion walked up to me that night in Israel, he looked me in the eye and before I could say a word, he just said, “The question isn’t ‘where,’ the question is ‘why?’”

    In other words, Ben-Gurion wanted to know why I lived in South Dakota rather than move back to Israel. He was a committed Zionist and believed all Jews should return to the Holy Land. I surprised myself when I said that living my life in South Dakota was: “my mission as a Jew.”

    David Ben-Gurion’s question changed my life. We picked it as the title because it captures my life’s core purpose: to do what I can to live out my Jewish values to improve my community and the lives of the people around me. That’s what’s been driving me all these years, and that’s really the central idea that holds the whole book together.

Q&A with Eric Zimmer

  1. How did you end up writing The Question is “Why?”

    I grew up in Rapid City but was young and disengaged from community issues and politics during much of Stan’s career as state legislator. Then I left town for four years while I worked on my doctorate. I had always heard Stan’s name around town—he appeared regularly in the newspaper—but really only remembered him as a face from the big campaign billboards in Baken Park. Later on, I got to know Stan a little bit from a weekly breakfast group we both attended. But I didn’t know too much about him. Perhaps more significantly—being from South Dakota, where there aren’t very many Jewish people at all—I knew basically nothing about Jewish history generally, let alone in our region.

    Fortunately, I’m a pretty curious guy and care about good stories that bear broader lessons for society. When Eric Abrahamson pitched the idea of having me work on this book, I was interested but unsure what to expect. After some initial research, I quickly came to see that writing about Stan’s life would offer me a chance to dive deeply into the history of my own community, to try to understand a new culture, and to contribute to some important discussions about our town and region—all while telling a great story that touches on local, national, and international themes. The project ended up being a dream opportunity, and I’m quite fortunate to have been available when Stan decided to put his story down on paper.

  2. What kinds of research went into the creation of The Question is “Why?”

    A lot! In order to capture Stan’s sprawling story and contextualize it, I read up on a wide array of big, broad topics, like the history of Jewish people in the United States; South Dakota settlement, politics, and economics; Jewish experiences in Russia and the World Wars; and the rise of American conservatism. I also dove into extremely esoteric subjects like history of the construction industry in the United States or early experimentation with drip agriculture technology and its application in the Negev Desert. I also consulted a handful of key works about the Adelstein family and owe a big debt to two pairs of historians—Howard and Aubrey Shaff and Orlando and Violet Goering—who had previously written about the Adelstein family and Jewish history in South Dakota. I did my best to synthesize all of these secondary sources in a broad, descriptive way so readers could trace big historical developments that paralleled Stan’s life journey.

    As for the specifics of Stan’s life, Eric Abrahamson and I conducted extensive interviews with Stan, his family members, friends, and business associates, to add insights and color to the book. I also worked closely with a research assistant, Diana Pavek, who organized more than 80 boxes of Stan’s papers from his family’s company’s archives. I combined letters, memos, photographs, and other items from that collection with documents from several regional archives. I wove all of this material together to create The Question is “Why?”—a fact to which the book’s seemingly endless endnotes can attest.

  3. How does writing a biography about a living person contrast with other kinds of historical writing?

    It was an enriching and unique challenge. Historians are used to piecing together complex stories from hundreds of sources, many of which offer only a partial window into a specific event or subject. We’re also insulated by time itself, and there there’s a freedom in that: When you’re writing about deeper pasts, you rarely have to contend with someone’s lived memories. There were times when Stan or someone who knew him remembered something differently than the way it was presented in the sources and/or the book. So we had opportunities to consider all of these comments and suggestions and revise the writing accordingly.

    Often, this wasn’t a question about who was right or wrong, or of anyone—Stan included—trying to paint themselves or someone else in a particular light, good or bad. Instead, it was the natural product of capturing people’s memories, sometimes degraded or refashioned over time, then trying to offering a clear insight based on these personal perspectives. Weighing primary sources, secondary sources, and sometimes competing memories of a single event or story proved to be a very delicate balance.

    On other hand, working with the subject of the book opened all kinds of doors. Being able to ask Stan or another interviewee to clarify this point or that saved untold hours or dead-end research. The process also highlighted the limitations of the archival record. People would bring up a subject or story that I wouldn’t have thought to ask about. These additions offered color and detail to the book. More than that, they pushed me to pursue angles and stories that surprised me. Early on, there were some anecdotes Stan told me that seemed a little too far-fetched to be true. Over and over again, I was stunned to find detailed evidence to corroborate—and often expand upon—a seemingly outlandish story!