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B'nai Abraham Congregation, Minneapolis

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Black and white photograph of the front exterior of B'nai Abraham Congregation taken in 1922.

Photograph of the front exterior of B'nai Abraham Congregation taken in 1922. The building, at the corners of Ninth Street and Thirteenth Avenue South in Minneapolis, was originally a Methodist church.

B'nai Abraham Congregation grew out of the Romanian Jewish community that developed in South Minneapolis in the 1880s. The congregation prospered until the neighborhood's Jewish population shrank after World War II. A move to St. Louis Park in the early 1950s rejuvenated membership, and B'nai Abraham merged with Mikro-Tifereth in 1972, creating a new congregation: B'nai Emet.

Jewish immigrants to Minneapolis established the Rumanian Hebrew Congregation in 1888 or 1889. These Romanian Jews settled in the Elliot Park neighborhood of South Minneapolis near their workplaces on Franklin Avenue and Fifteenth Avenue South. They earned their living as peddlers, artisans, and small shopkeepers.

The Romanian congregation built a Moorish-style synagogue at 314 Fifteenth Avenue South by 1895. The next year, the congregation took the name B'nai Abraham (Sons of Abraham). Within the larger Jewish community it was still called the Rumanische shil (Romanian synagogue).

B'nai Abraham's worship service was Orthodox. The building was usually filled to its three-hundred-person capacity on the Sabbath and holidays. The congregation did not hire a rabbi in the early years. Instead, learned lay members led daily worship services. A preacher or cantor was sometimes hired for the High Holidays.

A second Romanian synagogue, Agudas Achim (Assembly of Brothers), formed in South Minneapolis in 1902 from a splinter group of B'nai Abraham members. Agudas Achim's synagogue was located at 1820 Seventeenth Avenue South. This congregation never had more than about one hundred members. It disbanded in 1950.

In 1920, B'nai Abraham moved to a former Norwegian Episcopal Methodist church building at 825 Thirteenth Avenue South. The congregation supported a weekly Hebrew School, and in 1922 it had eighty-five pupils. The school closed in 1937. Thirty-five remaining pupils transferred to the South Minneapolis branch of the Talmud Torah. That branch had opened in 1920 in the Adath Jeshurun synagogue, one block away from B'nai Abraham.

By this time, the South Minneapolis Jewish community centered on B'nai Abraham was shrinking. Families were moving to the west side of Minneapolis and to St. Louis Park. In 1945, B'nai Abraham's membership was only about ten families.

In the early 1950s, about a thousand Jews lived in St. Louis Park. Informal discussions took place about the need for a Jewish communal building that would meet the needs of the growing community. A formal meeting about the issue was held in October of 1952 at the Lenox School in St. Louis Park.

As a result of the meeting, B'nai Abraham decided to make the leap from city to suburb. It initiated a move to St. Louis Park in 1956, and was the first Minneapolis synagogue to do so. Rabbi Mordecai "Mark" Liebhaber was the congregation's spiritual leader during this difficult transition.

The congregation purchased two adjacent houses at the intersection of Highway 7 and Ottawa Avenue to use as chapel, congregational office, and classrooms. B'nai Abraham now affiliated with the Conservative movement. Membership jumped to 294 families.

Moshe Sachs became B'nai Abraham's rabbi in 1958. Sachs was esteemed as a scholar. He was also beloved for his concern with the social welfare of area Jews, whether or not they were his congregants.

In 1959, B'nai Abraham replaced one of the houses it was using with a new synagogue designed by the architectural firm of Ackerberg and Cooperman. The other house was preserved as a caretaker's residence. Seven hundred people came to the building's dedication in June 1959, including the mayor of St. Louis Park. Membership increased from about 400 to 550 families during 1960s.

Meanwhile, Jews were moving away from North Minneapolis to St. Louis Park, just as they had left South Minneapolis in earlier decades. North Side synagogue Mikro Kodesh (Holy Assembly) attempted to merge with B'nai Abraham in 1969, but the merger did not proceed. Instead, Mikro Kodesh merged with Tifereth B'nai Jacob (Splendor of the Sons of Jacob), also on the North Side, to form Mikro-Tifereth. In 1971 Mikro-Tifereth joined with B'nai Abraham in St. Louis Park. The new congregation named itself B'nai Emet (Sons of Truth). The three Hebrew letters that make up the word emet are the first letters of the names of the three congregations that came together.

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B'nai Abraham/B'nai Emet Synagogue. St. Louis Park Historical Society.
www.slphistory/bnaiemet.asp

"B'nai Abraham Synagogue Is Worship, Culture Center of 400 Jewish Families." [St. Louis Park, MN, 1971]
Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Minnesota Historical Society, Placeography. B'nai Emet (Abraham) Synagogue, 3115 Ottawa Avenue South, Saint Louis Park, Minnesota.
http://www.placeography.org/index.php/B%27nai_Emet_%28Abraham%29_Synagogue%2C_3115_Ottawa_Avenue_South%2C_Saint_Louis_Park%2C_Minnesota

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

Gordon, Albert I. Jews in Transition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, [1949].

H. Z. Mendow, interview by Rabbi Max Shapiro. Typed transcript of oral interview.
Hiram Mendow Collection, 1900–2001
Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Kelner, Larry B. Bnai Emet Memories 1973–2011: A Collection of Thoughts and History. DVD. Minneapolis: Bnai Emet Synagogue, 2011.
Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

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

Plaut, W. Gunther. The Jews in Minnesota: The First Seventy-Five Years. American Jewish Communal Histories, no. 3. New York: American Jewish Historical Society, 1959.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of the front exterior of B'nai Abraham Congregation taken in 1922.
Black and white photograph of the front exterior of B'nai Abraham Congregation taken in 1922.
Black and white photograph of the construction of a new building for B'nai Abraham Congregation (later B'nai Emet Synagogue) at Ottawa Avenue and Highway 7, St. Louis Park, December 8, 1958.
Black and white photograph of the construction of a new building for B'nai Abraham Congregation (later B'nai Emet Synagogue) at Ottawa Avenue and Highway 7, St. Louis Park, December 8, 1958.

Turning Point

B'nai Abraham relocates from South Minneapolis to St. Louis Park in 1956, making it the first Minneapolis Jewish congregation to move to the suburbs.

Chronology

1888 or 1889

The Romanian Hebrew Congregation is founded in South Minneapolis.

1895

The congregation begins construction on a Moorish-style building at 314 Fifteenth Avenue South and changes its name to B'nai Abraham.

1902

A group splits off from B'nai Abraham to form Agudas Achim Synagogue. It is located at 1820 Seventeenth Avenue South until the congregation disbands in 1950.

1920

B'nai Abraham moves to a former church building at 825 Thirteenth Avenue South.

1922

Enrollment in B'nai Abraham's Hebrew school reaches eighty-five students.

1956

B'nai Abraham moves to 3115 Ottawa Avenue South in St. Louis Park.

1972

Mikro-Tifereth, the result of a 1969 merger of two North Minneapolis synagogues, joins with B'nai Abraham to form a new congregation, B'nai Emet.