One of nearly a dozen early Orthodox Jewish congregations in North Minneapolis, Tifereth B'nai Jacob was founded by immigrants from Bessarabia. The congregation served the community for seventy years before merging with other synagogues and moving to St. Louis Park.
Tifereth B'nai Jacob (Splendor of the Sons of Jacob) was founded in 1890. It was one of eleven Orthodox synagogues founded in Minneapolis between 1884 and 1905. Jewish immigrants from Europe joined with fellow Jews from the same region or town to worship according to familiar practices. Tifereth B'nai Jacob's founders were from the town of Filishter in Bessarabia, a borderland between Romania and Russia.
Originally named Tiferes B'nai Israel, the congregation first met in a private home in North Minneapolis. In 1897, the congregation built a synagogue at 910 Emerson Avenue North. In 1920, the name was changed to Tifereth B'nai Jacob (TBJ).
In 1926, the congregation built a brick synagogue atop one of the few hills in North Minneapolis. The hilltop location fulfilled a Jewish tradition that a house of worship should have the highest roof in its neighborhood. The address was 808-810 Elwood Avenue North. TBJ became known as the "Elwood shul" (synagogue).
The building featured corner stair towers leading to the women's balcony and a Star of David formed by patterns in the exterior brick. Inside, zodiacal images painted on the curved wooden balcony provided distinctive decorations. Images of the zodiac have been displayed in synagogues since late antiquity as symbols of God's cosmic order.
TBJ began changing in the 1940s. It hired an American-educated Orthodox rabbi with a modern outlook-a man said to have played and enjoyed football during his college days. After U.S. presidential candidate Henry Wallace held a rally at the synagogue in 1948, the congregation earned a reputation for "socialist" leanings. By the end of the decade, TBJ had adopted the practices of Conservative Judaism.
By the late 1950s, the North Minneapolis Jewish community was in decline. Many of the city's Jews, like other urban Americans, had moved to the suburbs after World War II. In 1949, 60 percent of Minneapolis's roughly 23,000 Jews lived on the North Side. A decade later, the number had slipped to 38 percent. Twenty-eight percent lived in St. Louis Park.
In 1957, TBJ sold the building to the First Church of God in Christ, an African American congregation. It then moved into temporary quarters in the I.L. Peretz Community Center at 2418 Plymouth Avenue North. In 1958, TBJ moved to its last home at 1500 Xerxes Avenue North in Golden Valley, just beyond the Minneapolis city limits.
Volatile Summers of racial unrest on Plymouth Avenue in 1967 and 1968 prompted those Jewish businesses and institutions still located in North Minneapolis to move. Mikro Kodesh, another North Side Orthodox congregation, tried to merge with B'nai Abraham in 1969 (B'nai Abraham had moved to St. Louis Park from South Minneapolis in that year). When that effort fell through, Mikro Kodesh merged with TBJ on Xerxes Avenue North.
Just three years later, in 1972, Mikro-Tifereth merged with B'nai Abraham in St. Louis Park. The new congregation took the name B'nai Emet (Sons of Truth). By this time, only 2 percent of Minneapolis's Jewish population lived in North Minneapolis.
The First Church of God in Christ allowed part of the 2011 documentary Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis to be filmed in its sanctuary in the former "Elwood shul." Many features of the synagogue remain, including the Torah ark, pews, and curved wooden balcony with its zodiacal images.
Altrowitz, Abe. "Synagogue Building Sold, to Become Negro Church." Minneapolis Star, December 12, 1957.
Avery-Peck, Dr. Alan J. "Astrology in the Ancient Synagogue." My Jewish Learning.
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.
University of Minnesota, Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center. Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis.
Gordon, Albert I. Jews in Transition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1949.
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.
In 1926, Tifereth B'nai Jacob moves into a new building on Elwood Avenue in North Minneapolis. It comes to be known as "the Elwood shul."