Mayim Rabim, the only Reconstructionist synagogue in the Twin Cities, was founded in 1992. Its founders were former members of Adath Jeshurun in South Minneapolis. In 2014, the small congregation continues to worship at its original home, the Minneapolis Friends Meetinghouse.
In 1991, Adath Jeshurun Congregation had been located at 3400 Dupont Avenue in South Minneapolis for almost seventy years. By the 1980s, a majority of its members had moved to the western suburbs. After much debate, the Conservative congregation voted to move to Minnetonka in 1991. In response, a group of Adath Jeshurun (Gathering of the Righteous) members who still wished to worship in the city formed the New Minneapolis Synagogue in 1992.
The new synagogue then considered two key aspects of its identity. The first was a permanent name. In August 1994, the name Mayim Rabim (Many Waters) was chosen. The phrase was drawn from a psalm. A newsletter said the name reflected “our pluralistic view of Judaism, as well as our commitment to the City of Lakes.”
In 1994, the thirty households of Mayim Rabim debated which of Judaism’s four main movements to join. Rabbis from the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements spoke at members’ homes and at the Linden Hills Park House in the fall of 1994. Sixty-five percent of the congregation voted to affiliate with Reconstructionism. In May 1995, Mayim Rabim was admitted to the national Fellowship of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot (fellowship groups).
Reconstructionism addresses the challenges American Jews face living in two cultures: Judaism and secular America. It is based on the writings of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (1881–1983). In 1934 Kaplan wrote Judaism as a Civilization, the book that defined the new movement. Kaplan taught that Judaism must be constantly “reconstructed.” It must evolve to meet the challenges of each era while maintaining the traditions of Judaism.
Mayim Rabim was not the first, nor is it the only, Reconstructionist group in Minnesota. In the mid-1980s, a Havurah met monthly in the Twin Cities. In 2014, Duluth’s Temple Israel is affiliated with both Reconstructionism and Reform.
By 1996, Mayim Rabim had thirty-eight member households. Members led services, sometimes with help from student rabbis. High Holiday services and other events attracted many nonmembers. Mayim Rabim found itself in need of active members who could share the work involved in running a “do-it-yourself” congregation.
During the late 1990s, Mayim Rabim raised funds to hire a part-time rabbi. It took until June 2000 to complete a successful search. Ze’ev Harari became Mayim Rabim’s first rabbi. The congregation numbered sixty-five households in 2002.
Since its founding, Mayim Rabim has used an informal and democratic decision-making process. It is LGBT inclusive. It is open to those of diverse Jewish backgrounds and with partners of other faiths.
The small congregation has sustained itself by sharing worship space with an established congregation, the Friends Meetinghouse, and by having a part-time rabbi. In 2012, Rabbi Sharon Stiefel became Mayim Rabim’s spiritual leader.
Mayim Rabim Congregation papers
Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Summary: Newsletters from Mayim Rabim Congregation (formerly New Minneapolis Synagogue, 1994–2003; communications, fundraising, etc. from that period.
Jewish Reconstructionist Communities.
“Mayim Rabim Look to Sustain Momentum.” American Jewish World, August 2, 2013.
Mayim Rabim. Reconstructionist Congregation.
Orkin, Etta Faye, and Debra Sugerman. 125 Years of Adath Jeshurun Congregation: From Generation to Generation. Minneapolis: Adath Jeshurun Congregation, 2009.
“Rabbi Sharon Stiefel Ascends to Mayim Rabim’s Pulpit.” American Jewish World, September 14, 2012.
Stiefel, Sharon. “Mayim Rabin—Reconstructionist Judaism: Born in the USA.” Twin Cities Daily Planet, August 7, 2013.
Mayim Rabim votes to affiliate with the Reconstructionist movement of Judaism in 1995.
The New Minneapolis Synagogue is founded by a group of members of Adath Jeshurun Congregation after Adath votes to move from South Minneapolis to Minnetonka.
The congregation takes the name Mayim Rabim (Many Waters).
Mayim Rabim affiliates with the Reconstructionist movement of Judaism.
Mayim Rabim hires its first rabbi.
The congregation hires Rabbi Sharon Stiefel.