Minnesota Jewry at 150

Jews have been here since the time the territory was opened to white settlement. The explosive growth of St. Paul in the 1850s included enough Jews to form Mount Zion Congregation, which, by the 1870s, had moved toward Reform. Those who wished to remain Orthodox could join the newly established Sons of Jacob.  Several early Jews intermarried, while at least one man kept a connection to Judaism solely through his membership in Bnai Brith.

We can see that even in these early years there was diversity in the manner in which people decided whether or how to live Jewish lives.  Some hewed to tradition, others insisted on modernization of Jewish practices, still others felt that being a cultural Jew was sufficient, while a minority left the Jewish fold altogether.

Diversity increased with the arrival of Eastern European Jews beginning in the early 1880s.  German Jewish co-religionists aided their brethren but the communities were separated geographically and by religious practices. There were divisions as well within the immigrant community.  It is important to remember that not all Jews of that time were pious.  Members of the Workmen’s Circle were committed Socialists.  Zionists came in all shades—Socialist, religious and in-between.   Still, there was a sense of peoplehood and of a shared destiny.  Furthermore, there were not enough Jews of one persuasion or another to set the boundaries too high.  This last fact is critical in understanding the go-along and get-along mentality of Minnesota’s Jews.

The Board of Directors of the Workman's Circle Loan Ass'n, Inc.1926

The development of the unified Jewish community began with the establishment in 1930 of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.  At first, the Federation raised money for a few local institutions such as the Talmud Torah, but also contributed to Orthodox and later Communist causes in order to entice and keep those factions loyal.  Again, it was the relatively small Jewish population that necessitated this spirit of cooperation.

The 1950s and 1960s were eras that promoted belonging to established Jewish institutions. The synagogues, the Federations and its now-multiplied beneficiary agencies were the pillars upon which the community rested.  Synagogues youth groups flourished, as did AZA, BBG, and Young Judea. The anti-Semitism that had held Minneapolis’s Jews in a pariah category was removed first by city and then state Human Rights legislation. The old divisions within the communities were healed as the immigrant generation died, the Communists were driven out, and Jews became part of the middle class.

That era of praying together and staying together ended in the late 1960s. The same pressures that were roiling America were being felt in the Jewish community.  The North Side riots of 1966 and 1967 were a fiery corrective to the notion that Blacks and Jews were natural and life long allies.  Even suburbia was no longer safe: Jewish teens looked outside their own communities for excitement and role models.

By the 1980s Young Judea, BBG and AZA were either defunct or on the ropes.  Even B’nai Brith, once melding rising and fully established men, no longer attracted a younger generation.  As families moved to more distant suburbs and more women joined the work force, transporting kids to a JCC or a Talmud Torah became more problematic.  Still synagogue membership, Federation giving, and support for Israel seemed pretty solid.

That same era witnessed several new developments. The movement of Soviet Jews into our communities, which began in the 1970s and swelled in the 1980s created not only an opportunity to increase community size, but also the challenge of integration.  Newcomers were generally well-educated, but lacked religious background and language skills.  Unlike the earlier immigration, willing American-born families personally helped them navigate the shoals of American life, and synagogue gave them free membership.  Nevertheless, even with the best will, integration could not occur quickly.

There was also new energy in the Orthodox community, especially in the Lubavitch movement.  They were willing to flaunt their beliefs in the form of public outreach such as menorah-mobiles, but they established their own educational and recreational facilities. The growth of the Russian-born and Lubavitch groups, coupled with a rise in intermarriage were warnings that community cohesion was no longer a given.

The last two decades of 2000 also saw Jews playing leadership roles in powerful cultural and educational institutions such as the Minnesota orchestra, art museums, and the University of Minnesota.  Political barriers had already been broken with the elections of Jewish mayors in St. Paul and Minneapolis, and a string of senators.

Which brings us to the nub of the problem: When the larger community offers such blandishments and in fact no longer sees intermarriage as an obstacle, why give solely or even the bulk of one’s philanthropy to Jewish causes, join a Jewish adult organization, or give children a Jewish education?  Why not opt out?

Indeed, the 2003 population study found that the greatest share of the Federation annual campaign came from households with older members, that there was a rise in the percentage of intermarried couples, that only 30% of children in these marriages were being raised as Jews, and that 35% of Jews surveyed described themselves as “Just Jewish.”

There has also been a significant decline in support for Israel.  The core values of the mid-century community were being questioned.

Coupled with these sobering findings we can discern several more hopeful ones.  Concern for issues of social justice has led to the flourishing of Jewish Community Action, which appears attractive to Jews with no synagogue affiliations.  The founding of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest signaled an appreciation for the value of learning local Jewish history.  More synagogues have been founded.  There is a return to study and spirituality within virtually all congregations, and Jewish artistic expression commands a wide audience.  Jewish education from kindergarten through college is increasingly available as are adult learning venues.

So what does the future hold for Minnesota’s Jews?

Keeping American-born Jews within the community, while attracting and integrating Jews from the Former Soviet Union and intermarried couples are the greatest challenges this community faces. The institutions that flourished mid-century must now make themselves relevant and attractive to all these groups.  They will, as well, have to share power with newer organizations and with people who want to direct their philanthropy.

If the past is a guide, we can fashion this rich diversity into a community, but the rules for admission need to be changed.  We must return to the go-along and get-along mentality. There simply aren’t enough Jews in this region to create barriers to belonging.


Past Events

North Side Synagogues and Neighborhood: Parts I and II
Cost: $5.00
Date: Sunday, August 7th

Time: 10:30 am – 12:30 pm, 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm
Place: Mikro Kodesh Synagogue, 1000 Oliver Ave. N.
Guides: Robert Roscoe and Iric Nathanson

Minnesota Homefront, World War II

May 21-July 10
Virginia Area Historical Society, Virginia

Minnesota Homefront, World War II,” explores the accomplishments, sacrifices, disappointments and challenges that have shaped the enduring legacy of Minnesota’s Greatest Generation, as told through their own stories. Visitors find out what it was like to “make do” with rationing, farm during a severe labor shortage, work on the Iron Range, develop inventions for the war, be trained as a translator at Fort Snelling, and endure a starvation experiment for science and the war effort. The exhibit features nine graphic panels, audio interviews, songs of the period and a “Letter Stories” bin.  B’nai Abraham Synaogoue will also be hosting JHSUM’s WWII exhibit.

Talk by Seitu Jones, Northside native and nationally recognized visual artist discussing art & community development
June 26, 2011, noon

Tour Plymouth Avenue with urban historian, Iric Nathanson, focusing on the neighborhood transformations of the ‘60s & ‘70s.
On June 26, 1:30-2:30 pm

Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story
March 30, 7 PM
Theatres at Mall of America, located on Level 4, South of the Mall

To Jewish immigrants, baseball was both a fanatical pastime and a crack at the American dream. This lively documentary, narrated by Dustin Hoffman, includes interviews with Yogi Berra, Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Kevin Youkilis, Ron Howard, Larry King, and two baseball-loving rabbis, as well as a musical score featuring Benny Goodman, Yo-Yo Ma and Rush. Director Peter Miller’s tribute to the 160 Jews who have played in the major leagues portrays both the players’ pride in their heritage and their encounters with anti-Semitism. This all-American Jewish story hits a home run – and you don’t have to be a baseball nut to join in the fun!

Dreidel Dash 5K and Maccabee Mini Mile
Sunday, December 5, 11:00 AM
Temple Of Aaron
616 S. Mississippi River Blvd St. Paul, MN 55116

Dust off your running shoes, we’re racing in December! Now in it’s third year, the Dreidel Dash 5k and Maccabee Mini Mile is projected to double its participant numbers from last year!

Held on Sunday, December 5, this USATF certified, chip timed 5k race starts at Temple of Aaron, runs along Mississippi River Boulevard, through the Highland Park neighborhood and finishes at the St. Paul JCC. Free shuttle transportation is available between Temple of Aaron and the St. Paul JCC from 11:00am to 2:00pm. This event is open to everyone in the community – children, families, adults, teens, grandparents and is a great opportunity to burn off that holiday steam! The event, planned by more than fifteen community partners, includes a Hanukah celebration and community open house style event at the culmination of the race. Join us for activities and crafts for all ages, Hanukah goodies, and uust for the kids, a moon bounce and the chance to preview the all-new “Shalom Sesame” interactive media program with everyone’s favorite Muppets.

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 16th 6-10 p.m.
DQ CLUB Attached to the TCF Bank Stadium
2009 Southeast University Avenue Minneapolis 55455
$36 per person

Take a tasty trip down memory lane. Sprint to TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, October 16th from 6 to 10 pm. Greet old friends and meet new ones. Sample delicious foods inspired by popular Twin Cities restaurants. Menu selections by Sue Zelickson. Enjoy cocktails and great music. Tour behind the scenes at the brand new TCF Bank Stadium.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 26th 2-4 p.m.
University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center
2001 Plymouth Avenue North Minneapolis, MN 55411
Free open to all

Come hear Iric Nathanson talk about the history of Minneapolis and the North Side in particular. Iric Nathanson has written and lectured about local history for more than two decades. He teaches a course on Minneapolis history for the University of Minnesota’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and writes a local history feature for the on-line daily MinnPost. Iric is a Minneapolis North Side native and former board member of JHSUM.

He is the author of Minneapolis in the Twentieth Century: the Growth of an American City, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 2009. About his book “Readers reap the rich bounty of Iric Nathanson’s two decades of researching, teaching, and writing about the city’s history. Minneapolis in the Twentieth Century is, of course, a story of urban growth and prosperity, but the author doesn’t ignore the city’s dark side, including political and police corruption, union suppression, racial violence, and anti-Semitism. Nathanson brings history alive in this clearly written account, giving Minnesotans a deeper sense of their own shared past.”

Sunday, July 25 3-4:30 p.m.
Meet at Mikro Kodesh Synagogue
1000 Oliver Avenue North
Guides: Bob Roscoe and Iric Nathanson

Celebrate summer this year with our walking tour of historic North Minneapolis. JHSUM, the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC), and Preserve Minneapolis invite you to learn about the Minneapolis North Side synagogues and neighborhood.

This year’s summer walking tour highlights some of the gathering places of North Minneapolis’ Jewish community in the early- and mid-20th century. Visit a neighborhood with three synagogue buildings, the Emmanuel Cohen Community Center, and the Jewish Shelter Home for Children. Learn about the architectural history of these buildings and the communities that have gathered here. We hope to be able to offer an inside peek of at least one of the synagogues to view decorative frescos and other interior features.

Our tour leaders are Bob Roscoe, architect and historic preservationist, and Iric Nathanson, historian and author of the award winning new publication Minneapolis in the 20th Century. Tour takes place rain or shine, so bring your umbrella. No reservations necessary.

For more information click here.

Mikro Kodesh

Sunday, July 18, 2010 4 p.m.
1778 Colvin Avenue, St. Paul
$72 per guest

The Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest and Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council join forces to present “An Afternoon of Art in the Garden” on Sunday, July 18, 4-7 p.m. The event – a benefit for the two organizations – features an entrancing private garden in St. Paul, art by 10 Minnesota Jewish artists, wine, and Minnesota’s summer bounty prepared by local chefs.

Local resources and homegrown talent are the twin themes of “An Afternoon of Art in the Garden” and of the two organizations that are producing the event. A cross-section of outstanding Twin Cities Jewish visual artists will install their work throughout the acclaimed St. Paul garden of JHSUM Executive Director Katherine Tane. Tane’s garden features sweeping views, unusual plants, great stonework, and beautiful curved paths.

Participating artists will be present at the event and include glass artists Shoshana Englard and Peter Zelle, painters Paula Pergament, Leslie Gerstman, and David Rich, textile artist Robin Getsug, master woodworker Allan Schultz, ceramicist Suzanna Schlesinger Altman, doll-maker Sandra Self, and photographer Leighton Siegel. See more about each artist below. All of the works will be available for purchase. A portion of the sales will benefit Rimon and JHSUM.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010 6 p.m.
Minnesota History Center
345 Kellogg Boulevard W., St. Paul 55102
Free event/ Fee for parking

See the world premiere of Igor Dadashev’s locally made documentary film. Join local historians, authors and experts for a conversation about Minnesota history on Tuesday, June 8th, 7 pm at the Minnesota History Center History Lounge Program. Arrive at 6 pm to tour Minnesota Historical Society’s newest exhibit Minnesota’s Greatest Generation: The Depression, The War,The Boom”. At 7 pm view, The American Voice of the Soviet Jews, the locally produced documentary film about Minnesota’s own Soviet Jewish World War II veterans. Enjoy a post screening discussion with film director Igor Dadashev and producer Kamil Dadashev along with two of the film participants.

JHSUM, Jewish Community Action, Sabes Jewish Community Center, St. Paul Jewish Community Center, and Minneapolis Jewish Federation are partnering to present this important film depicting the World War II experiences of Minnesota’s Russian Jewish community members. Little known to Americans, the Soviet Union had its own “Greatest Generation”. More than 20 million Soviet citizens died in World War II – about 50 times the number of American deaths – including well over one million Jews. These men and women defeated fascism, but did not enjoy the freedoms of democracy; victory was soon followed by horrific Stalinist purges and authoritarian rule. Jews, in particular,experienced significant discrimination after the war, and most were unable to immigrate. Their stories are remarkable and, until now, have been largely overlooked.

For more information, please contact Lyudmyla Petrenko,VOICE: Community Building Initiative Program Director at or 612-867-8277   Or go to


Thursday, May 27, 2010 5:15 p.m.
Fredrikson & Byron, P.A.
200 S. 6th Street Ste. 4000, Minneapolis 55402
$20 per person

Be sure and check out the article Because people used to say “We won’t work with a Jewish Lawyer”.

Temple Israel Tikkun Leil Shavuot
Getting SERIOUS At Sinai: Jewish Themes, Insights and History in the Coen Brothers’ A SERIOUS MAN
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Temple Israel
2324 Emerson Ave. S. Mpls., 55405
Free event

Join us on Erev Shavuot, the harvest festival that marks the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai, for a study event, service and celebration. The discussion will center on the Coen brothers’ representation of 1960’s Twin City Jewry, rabbis, fate and divine justice. Our famous homemade cheesecake reception and Erev Shavuot service will follow.

7:00 p.m. Screening of the film, A SERIOUS MAN

8:45 p.m. Panel Discussion with
Colin Covert, movie critic at the Star Tribune
Sari Lennick, supporting actress in A Serious Man
Katherine Tane, Executive Director, Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest
Rabbi Sim Glaser

10:00 p.m. Homemade Cheesecake Reception

10:30 p.m. Erev Shavuot Service

For more information contact Wendy Schwartz, Adult Learning Coordinator at 612-374-0344 or

Sunday, May 9, 2010, 4 p.m.
Patrick’s Cabaret
3010 Minnehaha Ave. South, Minneapolis, Cost: $10.
Co-sponsored by Rimon Artist Salon Series
Elisa Korenne

You won’t want to miss singer-songwriter Elisa Korenne preview excerpts from her new show:” ‘Oy Vey’ is Jewish for ‘Uff-da’ ” in a performance/interactive dialog format as part of the always fascinating Rimon Artists Salon Series. Korenne, based in New York Mills, Minnesota, has gained national recognition as a songwriter and composer. She specializes in writing songs about unique individuals, uncommon people left out of history who add to the fabric of society.”

This past summer and fall Korenne spent many hours in the JHSUM archives researching the fascinating stories about little known Jewish immigrants who settled in the Upper Midwest. She has crafted poignant, always entertaining songs out of their lives and words. You will no doubt enjoy her performance about the ordinarily unsung Jewish immigrants who lived, worked and worshiped in the rural Midwest. Later this year, Elisa will be bringing a full production of this song-and-story concert to rural communities across Minnesota where Jewish culture is unfamiliar, and to urban communities where the stories of rural Jews are generally unknown.

“Elisa’s rich voice is amazingly addictive.”
— Pulse Weekly

To learn more about Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council and order tickets for this Rimon Artist Salon Series performance, contact David Jordan Harris at either 952-381-3449 or or click here for more information.

JHSUM is co-sponsoring three films at The Sabes Foundation Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival.
All screenings will take place at the Sabes JCC
4330 S. Cedar Lake Road, Minneapolis 55416

Dealers Among Dealers
Wednesday, April 14, 12 noon
Individual tickets $6
Discussion with director Gaylen Ross after screening
$3 kosher lunch available by preorder.
Contact directly Peggy Mandel at the Sabes JCC, or 952-381-3466.

Killing Kasztner
Wednesday, April 14, 7:15 pm
6 pm NCJW sponsored dessert reception and discussion after with director Gaylen Ross
Encore screening:Thursday, April 15, 3 pm
Film introduced by director Gaylen Ross and Hebrew University Professor Elhanan Yakira

You will have the opportunity to hear the director discuss such questions as: is Kasztner a hero or villain; what impossible choices have to be made when negotiating with the enemy to save lives; are historic incidents as solidly black and white as we would like to think; does recorded history serve political purposes? You can decide for yourself if the filmmaker got it right.


Profiling: exploring the diversity in the Jewish community in ten minutes or less!
Sunday, April 18, 10 am
Pay what you can.

Who Do You Love

Sunday, April 18, 3 pm
Individual tickets $9
2 PM movie snacks and JHSUM exhibit of SOMA Records memorabilia sponsored by the Heilicher Family Foundation.
Ira Heilicher introduces film.



The archives of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest are now located at the University of Minnesota within the Andersen Library at the Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives. The archives consist of synagogue and Jewish institutional records, as well as historical materials from rural Midwest communities, family and personal histories, oral histories, photographic and film collections, and genealogy materials. The collection is particularly strong in the areas of Jewish homesteading in the Dakotas, Northern Minnesota Iron Range Jewish communities, Minneapolis and St. Paul synagogue records, Jewish women’s organization records, and materials reflecting life on Minneapolis’s North Side Jewish community.

To search the collection or set up a research appointment: please visit the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives website at The collection is available and open to the public on the University of Minnesota campus, but an appointment is strongly suggested. Contact Archivist Kate Dietrick at or 612-625-0192.

-Check out the Pick of the Archives.

-Check out our YouTube Channel.

Check out our contributions to MNopedia. Our latest writings include: Mikro Kodesh Synagogue, Adath Jeshurun Congregation, B’nai Emet Synagogue, B’nai Abraham Congregation, Temple of Aaron and Beth Jacob Congregation.

MNopedia an online encyclopedia about Minnesota developed by the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) and its partners. MNopedia is a free, curated, authoritative resource about Minnesota. All of our articles are prepared for MNopedia by historians, consulting experts, professional writers, and others who have been vetted by the Minnesota Historical Society.


-Searching for photos?Click here.-Searching for family history? Click here to view our genealogy page.

-Searching for history on the road? Click here.

-In their own words…click here to hear oral histories.

-Searching for Soviet Jewry? Click here.

-Article Archive:Click here to read articles about the Jewish Upper Midwest.

Click here to see all of Linda Mack Schloff’s blog posts.

Finding Aids
Amos S. Deinard papers

Frank and Arthur Einseberg papers

Irma Firestone papers

St. Paul Jewish Community Center Collection

To search all finding aids for archives click here.

Other Resources:

“And A Sprinkling of Jews”: Work and Faith in Minnesota’s Jewish Merchants,” by Marilyn Chiat.

In Ramsey County History, vol. 28, no. 1 (spring 1993).
MHS call number: Reading Room F 612 .R22 R3 v.28:1.

Bridging the Gap Between Metaphor and Reality: Oral History and Written Memoirs as Vehicles for Reexamining the Jewish Immigrant Experience, by Rhoda G. Lewin.
Typescript, 1979.
MHS call number: BM 225 .M56 L483 1979.

“From Ghettos to Neighborhoods: Jewish Immigration in Minneapolis,” by Rhoda G. Lewin.
In Hennepin History, vol. 50, no. 5 (winter 1992).
MHS call number: Reading Room F 612 .H52 H42 v.50:5.

Jews in Minnesota Oral History Project

Minnesota History Center: Manuscripts for Jewish organizations. You are able to get to all manuscripts from this website, individual and organizational.

Minnesota History Center: MN 150

Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis