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Adath Jeshurun Congregation, Minnetonka

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Black and white photograph of Adath Jeshurun Women's League, Minneapolis, c.1930.

Adath Jeshurun Women's League, Minneapolis, c.1930.

Known for being the oldest Conservative congregation west of Chicago, Adath Jeshurun has been a mainstay of the Twin Cities Jewish community for well over a century. Though rooted in South Minneapolis, the congregation moved to Minnetonka in 1995 to accommodate its growing membership.

Four Minneapolis Jewish merchants founded Adath Jeshurun (Gathering of the Righteous) in 1884. It was the city's second Jewish congregation. Its founders wanted more traditional services than those held at Shaarai Tov Congregation (later Temple Israel), which had formed in 1878.

Adath Jeshurun's founders were from established Eastern European families. They lived and did business along Washington Avenue, Minneapolis's main street. In the 1880s, half of Minneapolis's population of fifty thousand lived within a mile of the avenue. At the time, the city's Jewish population consisted of about one hundred families.

In Adath Jeshurun's first two decades, the congregation met in rooms over members' stores and in rented halls. In 1903, it bought the former First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church building at 1125 Seventh Street South. The building was destroyed by a severe storm one year later. The congregation then purchased the former First Christian Church building, on Ninth Street and Twelfth Avenue South.

In 1910, Adath Jeshurun hired a rabbi ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York. JTS was part of the new American movement known as Conservative Judaism. This affiliation forms the basis for Adath Jeshurun's claim to be the oldest Conservative congregation west of Chicago.

C. David Matt (rabbi from 1912 to 1927) introduced youth programs and hired professional staff. Matt doubled his synagogue's membership in his first ten years.

By the 1920s, most Adath Jeshurun members had moved out of downtown to the city's west side, toward Hennepin and Lyndale Avenues. Though Adath Jeshurun was not a wealthy congregation, it made plans to build a new synagogue in this area. Until it could build, congregants held services and classes in rented halls and theaters near the intersection of West Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue South.

In 1927, Adath Jeshurun moved into a new building at 3400 Dupont Avenue South. This would remain its home for close to seventy years. The architectural firm of Jack Liebenberg and Seeman Kaplan designed the two-and-one-half-story building in the Renaissance style. Liebenberg was the first Jewish architect in Minnesota. In the 1920s, he also designed new buildings for the Temple Israel and Beth El congregations.

A large mortgage drained the congregation's funds. When the Depression hit, the building was foreclosed. Temple Israel and Beth El also experienced financial difficulties. There were discussions about possible mergers, but nothing came of them.

Rabbi Albert I. Gordon arrived in 1930. He was a dynamic leader who gave hope to the faltering congregation and was known community-wide for his weekly Sunday talks on WCCO radio. He also arbitrated two dozen labor disputes in Minnesota during the turbulent Depression years. Adath Jeshurun grew from eighty-five to over four hundred families by the time of his departure in 1946.
The post-war baby-boom years brought growth. In 1954, Adath Jeshurun built an addition for religious school programming. Liebenberg and Kaplan were again the architects. By 1960, some nine hundred families, representing three thousand individuals, were Adath members.

As early as 1959, Adath Jeshurun began to consider whether to stay on Dupont Avenue or move out of the city. Members were moving to the western suburbs. In 1969, the congregation bought twenty-eight acres on Lake Windsor in Minnetonka. A retreat center was erected on the site in 1974.

By the 1970s, Adath Jeshurun, like most American Conservative and Reform synagogues, had abandoned many time-honored Jewish funeral practices. In 1975, Rabbi Arnold Goodman challenged the congregation to organize a traditional Jewish burial society that would revive old customs. He suggested, for example, a return to the use of plain pine-box coffins. ABC television filmed a 1977 documentary featuring Adath Jeshurun's experiences carrying out the revival.

Meanwhile, the congregation actively debated whether to build a new home on the Minnetonka land. It finally voted to do so in 1991. Some members who wished to stay in the city formed a new congregation, Mayim Rabim (Great Waters).

The First Universalist Church bought the building at 3400 Dupont Avenue South for $1.5 million. A spacious, stone-faced new synagogue in Minnetonka, designed by Boston architects Finegold Alexander and Associates, opened in 1995.

Harold Kravitz became Adath Jeshurun's senior rabbi in 1996, having been assistant rabbi for ten years prior. Kravitz is a national leader on hunger and social justice issues. Adath Jeshurun's approximately 1,200 member families celebrated the congregation's 125th anniversary in 2009.

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Adath Jeshurun Congregation.
http://www.adathjeshurun.org/

Berman, Hyman, and Linda Mack Schloff. Jews in Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002.

Chiat, Marilyn. "Synagogues of Minnesota: Place and Space." Paper presented at Bet Shalom Congregation, Minnetonka, MN, May 24, 2005.
Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

City of Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission Registration Form, Adath Jeshurun Synagogue.
Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

"Corner Stone Laying-Jan. 24, 1954: The Story of Adath Jeshurun." [Minneapolis, 1954].
Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Meier, Peg. "Adath Jeshurun's Centennial Plans Include Gifts from the Congregation." Minneapolis Star and Tribune, September 10, 1983.

Orkin, Etta Fay. "Adath Jeshurun Congregation 1884–1995."
Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

———, and Debra Sugerman. 125 Years of Adath Jeshurun Congregation: From Generation to Generation. Minneapolis: Adath Jeshurun Congregation, 2009.

Peterson, Garneth O. Jewish Settlement in Minneapolis, 1860s-1972: Historic Context for Minneapolis Preservation Plan. [Saint Paul, MN]: Landscape Research, [1997].
State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Adath Jeshurun Women's League, Minneapolis, c.1930.
Black and white photograph of Adath Jeshurun Women's League, Minneapolis, c.1930.
Black and white portrait of C. David Matt, c.1915, Rabbi of Adath Jeshurun Congregation from 1912-1927.
Black and white portrait of C. David Matt, c.1915, Rabbi of Adath Jeshurun Congregation from 1912-1927.
Black and white portrait of Albert I. Gordon, c.1930, Rabbi of Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minneapolis 1930-1946.
Black and white portrait of Albert I. Gordon, c.1930, Rabbi of Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minneapolis 1930-1946.
Black and white photograph of children at Adath Jeshurun Nursery School, Minneapolis, 1938.
Black and white photograph of children at Adath Jeshurun Nursery School, Minneapolis, 1938.
Black and white photograph of Adath Jeshurun Congregation, 3400 Dupont Avenue South, Minneapolis, 1948.
Black and white photograph of Adath Jeshurun Congregation, 3400 Dupont Avenue South, Minneapolis, 1948.
Black and white photograph of Men's board, Adath Jeshurun Congregation, Minneapolis, c.1950.
Black and white photograph of Men's board, Adath Jeshurun Congregation, Minneapolis, c.1950.
Photograph taken at the bar mitzvah of Leland Fleisher at Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Minneapolis.
Photograph taken at the bar mitzvah of Leland Fleisher at Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Minneapolis.

Turning Point

In 1927, Adath Jeshurun Congregation moves to its first purpose-built home on Dupont Avenue South in Minneapolis, where it will remain until 1995.

Chronology

1884

Articles of incorporation for A'Tas (a misspelling of the word "Adath") Yeshurun are signed by four Jewish merchants with businesses on Washington Avenue South in Minneapolis.

1903

The congregation purchases the First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church at 1125 Seventh Street South. A severe storm destroys the building on August 22, 1904.

1906

Adath Jeshurun purchases the former First Christian Church on Twelfth Avenue South and Ninth Street.

1910

Joseph Silver becomes the congregation's first rabbi to have attended the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, affiliated with the new American Jewish movement known as Conservatism.

1927

In spite of financial woes and a small congregation, Adath Jeshurun builds a synagogue at 3400 Dupont Avenue South.

1930

Adath Jeshurun hires Rabbi Albert I. Gordon, who becomes an active community leader, labor arbitrator, and weekly radio show host on WCCO.

1954

Adath Jeshurun celebrates its seventieth anniversary and dedicates a new school annex, reflecting the baby-boom era's concern with youth education.

1969

As the westward movement of its members continues, Adath Jeshurun purchases twenty-eight acres of land on Lake Windsor in Minnetonka.

1976

Rabbi Arnold Goodman spearheads the organization of a congregational burial society, the Chevra Kevod Hamet. The society revives traditional Jewish practices that had been abandoned.

1991

The congregation votes to build a new synagogue on land in Minnetonka. The First Universalist Church purchases the building at 3400 Dupont Avenue South for $1.5 million.

1995

Adath Jeshurun's new building in Minnetonka opens, designed by Maurice Feingold and Associates of Boston.

2009

Adath Jeshurun celebrates its 125th anniversary.