Minneapolis's oldest synagogue, Temple Israel (originally named Shaarai Tov), was founded in 1878. By 2012, over two thousand member families belonged to the temple, making it one of the largest Jewish congregations in the United States.
In 1875, nearly two hundred Jews lived in Minneapolis. Most of these early settlers were German-speaking natives of Bohemia. A number of them were prosperous businessmen and manufacturers.
They did not join forces to found a synagogue right away. Edward Bernstein, a newcomer to Minneapolis, eventually led the earlier arrivals to found Shaarai Tov (Gates of Goodness) in 1878. At first, the congregation hoped to include both Orthodox and Reform traditions in its worship services. The effort did not succeed, and Shaarai Tov soon became a Reform congregation.
In 1880, the congregation built a house of worship. It was located on Fifth Street, between First Avenue (later Marquette Avenue) and Second Avenue South. Leroy Buffington, one of Minneapolis's leading architects, designed the Byzantine-style, wood-frame synagogue.
In 1888, Shaarai Tov moved the building to Tenth Street and Fifth Avenue South. In 1902, however, it burned down. The congregation built a new stone building (designed by the architectural firm of Kinney and Ditweiler) on the same site the next year.
For about two decades, the congregation's membership consisted of about one hundred families. During Shaarai Tov's first twenty-two years, five rabbis came and went. Then three influential rabbis led the congregation for most of the twentieth century. The first was Samuel N. Deinard, hired in 1901.
Shaarai Tov's status and influence in the Jewish and general community grew under Deinard. He was a versatile and outspoken spiritual leader, learned in both Jewish tradition and modern scholarship. He was also a mediator when misunderstandings arose between his Americanized congregants and the Eastern European immigrants of the North Side. He founded a Twin Cities Jewish weekly newspaper, the American Jewish World, in 1912.
By the early 1910s, Shaarai Tov members were moving west from their original downtown neighborhood toward Lyndale and Hennepin Avenues, as were the Eastern European Jews of South Minneapolis. Deinard's dynamic personality and fluency in Yiddish and other languages made Shaarai Tov attractive to this group. The congregation grew to about 225 families.
In 1914, Shaarai Tov purchased a large house at the corner of West Twenty-Fourth Street and Emerson Avenue South. This "Temple House" was used for classrooms, meetings, and offices. Shaarai Tov changed its name to Temple Israel in 1920. When Deinard died suddenly of a heart attack on the morning of Yom Kippur in 1921, the entire Twin Cities Jewish community mourned. He was forty-eight years old.
A fire at Temple House in 1925 led to plans to build a new synagogue on the site. The firm of Jack Liebenberg and Seeman Kaplan designed the Neoclassical Revival-style building, which was dedicated in 1928. Liebenberg, a member of Temple Israel, was the first Jewish architect in Minnesota. In the early twenty-first century, the building remains a landmark overlooking busy Hennepin Avenue.
Deinard's successor, Albert Minda, was also an innovator and community leader. During Minda's tenure, 1922–1963, Temple Israel's membership grew from 384 families in 1944 to about a thousand in 1958. Among his many religious and civic roles, Minda was a founder of the Minneapolis Federation for Jewish Service and the Minneapolis Urban League.
Max Shapiro, Temple Israel's assistant rabbi since 1955, succeeded Minda in 1963. His goal was to make the large congregation of about 1,200 families seem intimate. Shapiro continued Minda's efforts to blend contemporary Judaism with some of the traditional rituals that Reform Judaism had earlier abandoned. Shapiro spoke out forcefully on social justice issues during the 1950s and 1960s. Temple Israel joined with neighborhood churches to found the Neighborhood Involvement Program to serve people in need.
Even after a group broke away from Temple Israel to form Bet Shalom in 1981, the congregation continued to grow. Shapiro was named rabbi emeritus in 1985, by which point Temple Israel had about 1,850 member families. It was now the tenth-largest Reform congregation in the United States.
A major 1987 building addition designed by Benz, Thompson and Reitow signaled that Temple Israel was in Minneapolis to stay. The addition faces Fremont Avenue and is a modernized mirror image of the original structure's façade.
Marcia Zimmerman was hired as assistant rabbi in 1988, and in 2001, she was named senior rabbi. She was the first woman senior rabbi of a congregation of more than two thousand families in the United States.
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 97-4073, Temple Israel Synagogue.
Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
Gordon, Albert I. Jews in Transition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1949.
Lewin, Rhoda G. Temple Israel: A Brief History, 1878–1987. Minneapolis: Temple Israel, .
Peterson, Garneth O. Jewish Settlement in Minneapolis, 1860s–1972: Historic Context for Minneapolis Preservation Plan. [Saint Paul, MN]: Landscape Research, .
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.
Temple Israel, Minneapolis.
Temple Israel (Minneapolis, Minnesota) Collection
Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Description: Various newspaper clippings, books, and documents, including those relevant to Rhoda G. Lewin, speeches regarding Frances Minda; articles regarding Rabbi Minda; and general documents regarding the history of Temple Israel and Minneapolis Jewish community.
In 1921, Rabbi Samuel Deinard dies of a heart attack on Yom Kippur at the age of forty-eight. Albert Minda succeeds him as Temple Israel's spiritual leader.