Bet Shalom Congregation has offered worship services affiliated with Reform Judaism since 1981. Originally based in St. Louis Park, the congregation moved to Hopkins in 1985 and to Minnetonka in 2003.
In 1980 Reform Jews in Minneapolis had one synagogue option: Temple Israel. The oldest congregation in Minneapolis was also the largest, with close to 1,800 member families. Late that year, four Temple Israel families met to discuss forming a new Reform congregation. They yearned for something smaller and more intimate. In the spring of 1981 the group took out an ad in a local Jewish newspaper, the American Jewish World, announcing their intentions.
The synagogue they created, Bet Shalom (House of Peace), was the first new Reform Jewish congregation founded in Minnesota in 103 years. In its first year it reached many milestones. First, the core group of thirty-two families adopted a mission statement. Its vision was that the new synagogue would be "a family of friends." Second, Bet Shalom signed an agreement with the Minneapolis Jewish Community Center (now Sabes JCC) to rent space for services and a religious school.
Third, the congregation hired Norman M. Cohen as its rabbi. He was then serving as an interim leader of the oldest Reform congregation west of the Alleghenies, Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fourth, Bet Shalom affiliated with the governing body of Reform Judaism, now known as the Union of Reform Judaism.
By 1985 Bet Shalom had grown to about two hundred member families. The space available at the Jewish Community Center had become too small. The congregation purchased the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church in downtown Hopkins, which provided its home for the next seventeen years.
As Bet Shalom grew, it stayed committed to keeping its members together in one space. For instance, the church building could not hold everyone who came to services for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays. The first year, two services were held. After that, the congregation decided to rent a space large enough to allow everyone to worship together. Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center and the Edina Community Center were two of the spaces used.
In 1999 the congregation numbered about 350 families. Bet Shalom began searching for a place to build its own synagogue. It purchased a 9.2-acre site in Minnetonka. In 2003 Bet Shalom moved into its new, 44,000-square-foot building designed by Milo Thompson and Gary Milne Rojek of the Minneapolis architectural firm Bentz, Thompson and Rietow.
The building featured large glass walls at the back of the sanctuary that weighed four tons each. They could be silently moved horizontally to create enough space for congregants attending Sabbath services and up to 1,300 people during the High Holidays. Two of Bet Shalom's Torah scrolls originally belonged to Jewish communities in Hibbing and Albert Lea.
Bet Shalom integrates interfaith work and social action into the life of the congregation. It often joins with another Minnetonka synagogue, Adath Jeshurun, and with other Jewish organizations in humanitarian efforts such as fighting hunger.
In 2006 Bet Shalom celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. As of 2012, Norman Cohen was the longest-serving non-Orthodox rabbi in Minnesota, and the congregation's membership numbered about 850 families.
Bet Shalom 25th Anniversary, 1981–2006. Booklet and DVD. Minnetonka, MN: Bet Shalom Congregation, 2006.
Bet Shalom Congregation.
Mack, Linda. "One size fits all in new Minnetonka synagogue." Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 4, 2003.
Nathanson, Iric. "Making it in Minnesota." Reform Judaism 32, no. 1 (Fall 2003): 46–51.
In 1981, a small group of families looking for an intimate Reform Jewish experience found Bet Shalom in suburban Minneapolis—the Twin Cities area's first new Reform congregation in 103 years.