Photograph of a booth staffed by members of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) at the Minnesota State Fair c.1980. Used with the permission of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest and obtained from the Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
A marked rise in public anti-Semitism in the 1930s spurred a group of Jewish leaders in the Twin Cities and Duluth to form the Anti-Defamation Council of Minnesota in 1938. In the 1950s the focus of the council shifted from defensive actions to teaching campaigns. These efforts aimed to fight ignorance and improve social relations. The renamed Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas continues this mission in the twenty-first century.
The state's first recorded incident of anti-Semitism occurred in 1882 when a conductor tried to eject Russian Jewish immigrants from his Minneapolis streetcar. In the late 1890s youth gangs often attacked Jewish peddlers in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The national Anti-Defamation Committee of B'nai B'rith (ADL) formed in 1913 to respond to anti-Semitic incidents. B'nai B'rith lodges in the Twin Cities and Duluth handled local cases.
Housing discrimination was a major problem. In 1919 the state legislature passed a bill banning restrictive housing covenants. It was drafted by well-known Jewish attorney Emanuel Cohen of Minneapolis. Housing discrimination against Jews in Minnesota, however, continued well into the 1950s.
Anti-Semitism, racism, and anti-Catholicism were on the rise throughout the U.S. in the 1920s. The advent of the Great Depression brought more acts of intolerance. Fascist groups like the Silver Shirts and German American Bund took root in Minnesota. The Silver Shirts had some six thousand members in the state in 1937. Ministers like William B. Riley of First Baptist Church and George Mecklenburg of Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church preached anti-Semitic messages from their pulpits and on local radio stations.
In 1938 anti-defamation leagues from around the state, including the Minneapolis group, merged into the Anti-Defamation Council of Minnesota. The informal organization investigated the state's profascist climate.
Local leaders had realized their groups needed to become permanent after the 1938 governor's race. Supporters of Republican candidate Harold Stassen used anti-Semitic tactics to discredit the Farmer-Labor Party and its incumbent governor, Elmer Benson.
Benson and his predecessor, Floyd B. Olson, both had Jewish staff. Therefore, Stassen supporters charged that the Farmer-Labor Party was "run" by Jews. A notorious cartoon to promote this message, titled "The Three Jehu Drivers," was displayed on posters and billboards throughout the state.
The Anti-Defamation Council incorporated and was renamed the Minnesota Jewish Council in May 1939. Samuel Scheiner was hired as executive director in the same year. Scheiner was charged with reviewing reports of anti-Semitic incidents and running outstate offices. The Minnesota Jewish Council was the first independent, statewide Jewish community relations agency in the U.S. It did, however, cooperate with the national ADL.
Scheiner protested anti-Jewish remarks, hate-filled leaflets, and swastika graffiti. He also exposed attempts by real estate agents, resorts, and employers to subvert anti-discrimination laws, whether by using code words such as "selected clientele" or bald statements such as "Gentiles preferred".
Scheiner's tactics included private negotiations, letter-writing campaigns, requests for apologies, threats of boycotts, and tracking letters to newspaper editors. His research into anti-Semitic practices in labor unions led to the creation of the United Labor Committee for Human Rights.
When World War II ended, some expected anti-Semitic activities to resume. A 1946 article by Carey McWilliams in Common Ground magazine seemed to confirm those fears. Minneapolis, McWilliams wrote, was "the capital of anti-Semitism in the United States."
Local attitudes, however, were improving. A 1947 study ordered by Minneapolis mayor Hubert Humphrey to assess "intergroup relations" led to joint efforts by the NAACP, League of Women Voters, and Minnesota Jewish Council to promote human rights. By 1952 acts of overt anti-Semitism were on the decline.
In 1959 the group changed its name to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota (JCRC). By the time Samuel Scheiner retired in 1974, a researcher had concluded that organized anti-Semitism in the state no longer existed. In 1975, under new director Morton Ryweck, the JCRC merged with the local B'nai B'rith ADL to form the JCRC/ADL. Ryweck retired in 1991.
In 2013 the JCRC of Minnesota and the Dakotas was again independent of the ADL. It voiced the concerns of the Jewish community to elected officials, the media, and other religious, racial, and ethnic groups. It continued to fight anti-Semitism and discrimination against all groups. It also kept up its support of religious freedom and the state of Israel through community service and social action.
Berman, Hyman, and Linda Mack Schloff. Jews in Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002.
Chiat, Marilyn, and Chester Proshan. We Rolled Up Our Sleeves: A History of the United Jewish Fund and Council and Its Beneficiary Agencies. St. Paul: United Jewish Fund and Council of Saint Paul, 1985.
"In Celebration 1919–1979." Special Issue, Identity: A Publication of the Jewish Community Center of Minneapolis 14, no. 2 (November 1979).
Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
Scheiner, Samuel. "Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow." Typescript .
Nathan and Teresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Weber, Laura. "'Gentiles Preferred': Minneapolis Jews and Employment 1920–1950." Minnesota History 52, no. 5 (Spring 1991): 166–182.
The Minnesota Jewish Council incorporates as a permanent organization in 1939. It hires Samuel Scheiner, who will eventually serve for thirty-one years, as director.
The Anti-Defamation Council of Minnesota, an informal organization dedicated to investigating the state's pro-fascist climate, is formed.
An overtly anti-Semitic 1938 campaign for governor leads to the council's reorganization and new name, the Minnesota Jewish Council. Samuel Scheiner begins his long tenure as executive director.
The organization changes its name to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota (JCRC).
Samuel Scheiner retires.
The JCRC affiliates with the national Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith to form the JCRC-ADL under new director Morton Ryweck.
The JCRC's affiliation with the ADL ends. JCRC is again independent.