Cluster of Jewish cemeteries, once among farmlands, now rest in suburbia

Read MinnPost’s article “Cluster of Jewish cemeteries, once among farmlands, now rest in suburbia“.


Dr. Samuel Deinard

In 1921, Yom Kippur was a time of sadness as well repentance for the Twin Cities Jews. Early on Yom Kippur morning, October 12, one of the community’s most highly esteemed leaders, Dr. Samuel Deinard, died suddenly at his home in South Minneapolis.

Rabbi Samuel N. Deinard, 1920.

Only 48, Dr Deinard had founded this newspaper in 1912 and was serving as Rabbi at Temple Israel at the time of his death. “The entire Jewish community is grief-stricken at the sad tidings,” the American Jewish World reported two days later.

Dr.Deinard is best remembered for his efforts overcome the religious, social and cultural divisions within American Jewry during the early decades of the Twentieth Century. A Reform rabbi of Eastern European descent, fluent in English, German and Yiddish, Deinard was able to help heal the breech that separated the acculturated members of his own congregation from the more insular Eastern European immigrants, who were still largely Orthodox in early 1920s.

“He served as a bridge between the old and new, between Reform and tradition, between East and West. This small, fiery, liberal rabbi was accepted and honored as a Jewish leader by all portions of the community,” Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut would write nearly 40 years after Deinard’s death.

Born in Lithuania in 1873, Deinard spent his childhood in Palestine. At the age of 17, he came to Germany to attend Heidelberg University, before moving on to United States study at a several American universities. While occupying a pulpit in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1901, the young rabbi received the call from the Minneapolis Reform congregation, then known as Temple Shaarei Tov.

Unlike many of his colleagues in the Reform rabbinate, Dei nard was sympathetic to the practices and beliefs of the more traditional branches of American Judaism. Though his own temple observed only one day of Rosh Hoshana, he made it a practice to attend an Orthodox synagogue on the second day, often accepting an invitation to address the congregation. When St. Paul’s Conservative congregation, Temple of Aaron, dedicated its new synagogue at Ashland and Grotto in 1916, Rabbi Deinard gave the principal address. The Reform rabbi at the nearby Mount Zion Temple was conspicuous by his absence at that dedication.

Deinard parted company from many of his Reform colleagues in his strong support for Zionism. As a staunch advocate for a Jewish state in Palestine, Deinard established close ties to other local Zionist, many of whom lived on Minneapolis’ Northside. Some members of Deinard’s congregation were not at all pleased with their rabbi’s advocacy for a Jewish state. In fact, soon after Dei nard arrived in Minneapolis, the president of Shaarei Tov congregation threatened the newly hired rabbi with the dismissal if he continued to promote Zionism. But Dei nard refused to back down and the threat passed.

Soon after he arrived in Minneapolis, Deinard attempted to establish a newspaper that could serve a unifying force for the Twin Cities Jewish community. His first publication, in 1904, known as the Jewish Progress, failed as did later efforts in 1905 and 1907.

Finally, in 1912, Deinard succeeded with the establishment of the American Jewish World. “We need not assure our readers that this paper will be strictly Jewish, Jewish in the broadest sense of the word” Deinard wrote in the paper’s first issue. “Nothing of Jewish interest will be foreign to it; nothing of interest to any Jewish section, to the adherents of any Jewish movement.”

Deinard continued to write for the Jewish World while he served as Temple Israel’s rabbi. In his final editorial, published after his death, he wrote: “The Jew is one of the world’s arch dreamers, and in a drab, prosaic, utilitarian age he carries with him those notions that lend a bit of poetry to life.”

In a tribute to this paper’s founder, published in the Jewish World in 1922, George J. Gordon, one of Deinard’s contemporaries, reminisced about his friend and fellow community leader: “My first glimpse of him was as, umbrella in hand, he stepped forward in that jaunty, unassuming manner which endeared him to his intimates. He was then in his late twenties, of a slight, almost boyish figure,” Gordon wrote. “When he smiled, it was with his eyes, rather than his lips, the kindly smile of a man with a humorist’s temper and a scholar’s calm … When we talked, the impression deepened in me that here was a man whose coming (to Minneapolis) could mean great strength to the Jewish community, a man of passionate loyalty, and with the capacity for leadership that would make the loyalty tell.”

-Iric Nathanson


The Emanuel Cohen Center and the origins of the Minneapolis JCC

Basketball champions, Emanuel Cohen Center, 1939.

In January 1922, the Minneapolis Talmud Torah was a busy place. Each week, more than 30 different recreation groups and social clubs met in the school’s overcrowded building at 8th and Fremont.

Five years earlier, the Talmud Torah had started providing social services for the local Jewish community as hordes of impoverished Jewish immigrants kept pouring into Minneapolis’ Near Northside.

But the new community service programs were starting to overwhelm Talmud Torah and distract the teachers and their students. A large sign in the front hall urged club members to refrain from noisy activities during school hours. Soon, school’s leaders came to realize that the social service programs needed a home of their own, so the Talmud Torah could carry on its educational mission in peace and quiet.

Gradually, plans for a new Jewish community agency began to take shape. In 1924, the Jewish Family Welfare Association was able to purchase a new building for the Talmud Torah’s social service programs, using the bequest from the estate of Emanuel Cohen, a prominent local attorney. In his later years, Cohen had become concerned about the rise in Jewish juvenile delinquency and left money in his will to establish a northside youth center.

The new facility, a large mansion at 909 Elwood, was named the Emanuel Cohen Center, in honor of the building’s benefactor. The newly reorganized agency spun itself off from the Talmud Torah and soon embarked on an ambitious efforts to serve all age groups in the Jewish community, from pre-schoolers to senior citizens.

In 1940, the Center built a new facility at 1701 Oak Park Avenue, around the corner from its original location on Elwood. The Center would continue to occupy the Oak Park building for the next 23 years.

In 1959, as the Jewish exodus out of North Minneapolis gained momentum, the Emanuel Cohen Center merged with the Park Jewish Youth Services and the Jewish Camping Association to form the Jewish Community Center of Greater Minneapolis. In 1963, the JCC severed its physical link to the Northside when it relocated to temporary space in the former Meadowbrook School in St. Louis Park. The JCC remained at Meadowbrook until 1969 when it moved to its current building at 4330 South Cedar Lake Road.

-Iric Nathanson


Finding Your History: A Satirical Look at Uncovering your Roots

So you have decided that you want to discover your family history. Well, here are a few helpful hints you should probably know before you get started.

Lower your expectations immediately.

The chances of you being related to someone famous are not good: for every one person who is related to someone of historical importance, there are thousands of others who are not. Now that is not to say that everyone doesn’t have a story to tell, but frankly, some are just not as interesting as others.

In my own case, my ancestors came from shtetls in Eastern Europe and were part of the large wave of immigration around the turn of the century. They settled on the East Coast and in the Midwest. A few served in World Wars I and II, while others were tavern owners, donut and shoe makers, window washers, grocers and one was even an artist. Basically, beyond leaving the Old World and coming to the New, they worked and lived quiet lives. Certainly nothing worthy of books, films or a 1970’s television miniseries, unless of course I should choose to embellish their stories in the manner I romanticize them to be.

Be prepared to be creeped out.

When looking at people’s behavior in the past, it is all too easy to forget that some of the things your ancestors might have done were well within the social parameters of their time in history. If you begin digging into the past, you need to keep the historical context in mind when you come upon something that might seem very unsettling in our times, which was not considered so bad back in the day. In my case, my great-grandfathers were twin brothers. One was my great-grandfather’s father, and the other was my great-grandmother’s father. Yes, that made my great-grandparents first cousins, and if that was not troubling enough, a third brother (great-great uncle) married my great-grandmother‘s sister, who was his niece. I have to say, this discovery does sort of explain some elements of what is wrong with my family. I would, however, like to point out that I knew my great-grandparents and liked them very much. My great-grandfather was a kind and quiet man, as my great-grandmother carried enough personality for the both of them. I never would have suspected that they were cousins of any kind, as I was really too young to contemplate these things and they were gone before I could ask them any questions about how they might have felt about their situation.

Be prepared to uncover family secrets.

If you thought that the previously mentioned story about my great-grandparents would have been the big family secret I came upon, you would be wrong. I discovered an interesting time period involving my great-grandfather, who owned a grocery store with his brother in Milwaukee. What I could not understand was why someone who owned a successful grocery store would move back to New Jersey with no profession. When I asked my grandmother, she told me he moved back to New Jersey for my great-grandmother. When I asked what he did for a living upon his return, she vehemently told me to leave the past alone and that my great-grandfather’s work was no one’s business.

Of course this sent my mind reeling, imagining that my great-grandfather was in the mob, a bootlegger, or possibly a speakeasy owner (it was the Depression, after all). After going through my list of creative professions my grandmother said. “Stop! He was a superintendent of an apartment building, a janitor! Are you happy now?” Well, I was not particularly happy, and I certainly did not understand what the big deal was, since he was providing for his family through honest work. I guess my grandmother did not see it that way, as she kept it a secret for over 70 years. After I spent a summer being the super of a ten unit building, I could only think that if my great-grandfather had to put up with the things I that had to, then he deserved admiration and a big old thank you. What is more intriguing is the fact that the whole first cousin, niece thing was not troubling enough to be the family secret, but the fact that my great-grandfather was gainfully employed during the Depression was.

You might want to wait on buying picture frames to display those old family photos.

I suppose that when we start looking into our ancestral past, we hope to find people who can explain something of who we are now, what makes us the way we are. But honestly, after seeing this picture of my ancestors on my mother’s side, and being aware of the previously mentioned family secrets, I wondered if I could have anything in common with this unhappy-looking group of individuals. As I mentioned earlier, we all have certain romanticized notions about our ancestors, and this also pertains to the discovery of family photos. Of course we all want those great photos we see on display in museums and antique stores, but let’s face it, not everyone is good looking or takes a great picture. As with this photo (taken in August of 1925 in Milwaukee, WI) I choose to think that it was a particularly hot and humid day, in which everyone was tired and someone decided it would be great to whip out the Brownie and take a group shot. I can just hear my great- great grandparents yelling at the photographer about not being properly dressed, and to hurry it along as it was too hot for photography and they needed to return to the shade and what did they know about taking pictures anyway. Funny, but maybe this explains why I don’t like to be photographed.

So now you are ready to embark on your journey of self-discovery through your ancestry. I wish you the best of luck and hope that you find what you are looking for. Just remember that what you find does not necessarily need to be shared with anyone but your own family. Some history is best left unwritten.

Guest contributor, Jodi Elowitz.

Photo with permission Jodi Elowitz.


Did you know?

Jews and Baseball
We hit one out of the park during the Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival! JHSUM and the St. Paul JCC partnered to present Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story at the Theatres at Mall of America. The overflow, sold-out screening was so popular that a second showing was quickly scheduled. The documentary features a rare interview with Hall of Famer L A Dodger’s pitcher Sandy Koufax. He talks about the day he contributed to Minnesota Jewish history by sitting out game one of the 1965 World Series against the Twins at the old Met Stadium because it was Yom Kippur.

World War II weekend at Fort Snelling
JHSUM and Minneapolis Federation’s VOICE Community Building Initiative sponsored a unique panel and accompanying exhibit as part of the Minnesota Historical Society’s World War II weekend at Fort Snelling. This is the second year we have been invited to participate. The Soviet Union was America’s ally in World War II and it had its own Greatest Generation. A trio of Jewish Soviet veterans, now residing in the Twin Cities—Vladimir Posse, Yakov Rabinovich, and Maria Borisovna Reznik—told their remarkable, and until recently, largely overlooked stories, adding a new perspective to the American World War II story we are familiar with.
More than 20 million Soviet citizens died in what they called The Great Patriot War—about 50 times the number of American deaths—including well over one million Jews. Soviet soldiers contributed to the defeat of 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 leave for decades.  Read more about our newest community members in our Russian Veterans Oral History Project.

Saint Paul’s Jewish Neighborhood – We Built Community
Our new exhibit at Sholom East spotlights some of the early St. Paul Jewish neighborhoods. Do you remember stories of the West Side?  A neighborhood described as Orthodox, Yiddish speaking and working class, with many breadwinners holding down blue collar jobs in the garment, needlework and manufacturing industries in downtown St Paul. Located at a bend in the Mississippi River the area flooded with predictable regularity.  It was a source of cheap housing, and quickly became a rich, if worn center of St. Paul Jewish life and culture. Most of the early arrivals were single men and families who found work and saved to bring over other family members remaining in the old country. In short order the community set to work establishing various organizations that more than 100 years later continue to build Jewish St. Paul.

Many Former North Siders returned for summer walking tours
Nearly 75 people joined our volunteer tour guides Bob Roscoe and Iric Nathanson along with our partner, Preserve Minneapolis, on walks through the neighborhood.  “My parents owned the Homewood Theater.” “I was an usher at the Homewood.” “Ha who wasn’t?” “Your parents owned the theater? I was just telling my friend about how we would sneak in there without paying; I think I might owe you 10-15 cents?” The child of the owners laughed and said, “I am thinking that might be 15 cents with 50 years of interest.”  Just a few of the comments from visitors!   Read the entire blog post here.

JHSUM debuts on Independence Mall
Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History tells the story of more than 350 years of American Jewish history including our Upper Midwest Jewish experience homesteading in the Dakotas.  JHSUM materials are part of their permanent video depicting the diverse backgrounds, expectations, and experiences of Jews who came and made their homes in the United States.   Photographs of Rachel Calof’s family’s homestead are featured prominently in the Dreams of Freedom, 1880-1945 exhibition chronicling the migration of millions of immigrants who came to the United States beginning in the late 19th century. JHSUM fulfills many requests nationally and internationally to use our materials in exhibits, publications, and documentary films.

The Great Turkey Giveaway

Guest Contributor: Jodi Elowitz

Everyone has Thanksgiving traditions and if we are to be of a cynical disposition one would believe that the holiday is no longer about family and friends and giving thanks but more about shopping, football and movies.  But of course if we were to look to history (and being a historical society we tend to do this on a daily basis) we would discover that there were stores open on the holiday, the annual Thanksgiving football games were played as early as 1920, and even though vampires did not sparkle in the twilight they certainly were already an important part of pop culture and cinema history, and the art of promotion and marketing was very much alive and well.

Recently I came across some film footage from the JHSUM’s We Knew Who We Were that dealt with an infamous marketing scheme promoted by the Homewood Theater, which was located on Plymouth Avenue, Minneapolis. The Homewood Theater was opened in 1924 by S.G. Lebedoff and is remembered fondly by former residents of the Northside. It was more than just a movie palace, it was a great communal center, where on Saturdays a nickel bought you a day of entertainment and there were so many kids you could not hear the film from all the excitement.

Like other theaters during the Great Depression, the Homewood came up with various promotions in order to entice people to come to the movies. They filled seats with special double features, live acts and raffles. The Homewood held its famous dish raffle on Wednesdays and if you went to enough of the mid-week raffles you could set a nice table.

But it was one special evening in November (year unknown) in which it was decided that the theater would hold a drawing for turkeys. Those with a lucky ticket would take home a beautiful bird. But these were not the white, wrapped Butterballs in a freezer case we have all come to love. Back then most of the patrons would have been Orthodox and the birds, needing to be Kosher, would have to be alive.

The great escape started in the basement when some of the cleverer Tom’s managed to break out of their crates.  Without any warning the roving band of birds flew up the stairs and into the aisles of the theater causing an enormous amount of chaos and hilarity.  Patrons chased the wayward birds up and down the aisles, through concessions and the lobby and finally out on to Plymouth Avenue where they continued their quest for freedom.

One resident remembered the scene as absolute pandemonium and likened the aftermath to a scene from Death Valley as birds hung from wires and trees the next day.

Needless to say this was the last of the live turkey raffles and as one of the Lebedoff decedents noted, the only turkey in a theater now- is a bad film!

Photo: Copyright Knight Scenes Photography. Used with permission.


Junior Hadassah “Manless” Cabaret, Beth El Synagogue, 1930s

(Click photo to see larger image)

First Row L-R:
Irene Myerson
Anne Gavren
Gertrude Frolichman
Deborah Miller
Anne Blindman
Fanny Miller
Dorothy Berman
Hilda Noun
Second Row (leaning forward)
Ruth Harris
Reva Ziff
Miriam Bassis
Third Row (seated):
Margaret Schwartz
Rose Hochman
Dorothy Shinder
Bess Kriv
Ann Locketz
Thelma Kay
Estelle Sussman
Zelda Ginsburg
Hilda Stoller
Alice Gordon
Sonia Tapper
Joy Marcus
Ida Brochin
Jeannette Schwartz
Fourth Row Standing (L-R):
Irene Cohen
– – –
Lilliam Rubenstein
Sue Noddelman
Leah Hechter
Betty Amiton
Leah Zeesman
Marian Hurwitz
Adele Brochin
– – –
Helen Steinman
June Rosen
Miriam Freidson
Ruth Zimmerman
Fifth Row (standing L-R):
Marcia Noodelman
Florence Morris
– – –
Mary Sckter
Lorraine Simkins
Bernice Grais
Dorothy Shechter
Sophie Gerb (Teener)
Florence Rosenberg
Ethel Steinman
Patty Helfman
Cecelia Levitt
Sarah Kaplan
Emma Levitt
Beatrice Selasky
Lenore Greenberg
Last row (standing L-R):
Beatrice Fredman
Helen Fredman
Jeanette Sobol (Fargo)
Evelyn Miller

Did You Know?

JHSUM contributed to three recent publications:

• Larry Perlman A Memoir includes this acknowledgement: “With gratitude to the staff of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest for their assistance and for their excellent archives on the old West Side of St. Paul.”

• Peg Meier used JHSUM archives to find materials for her newest book, Wishing for a Snow Day published by MHS Press. Ruth Brin and Fannie Schanfield’s childhood reminiscences are featured.

• Rutgers University Press chose one of our photos as the cover for their publication A Jewish Feminine Mystique: Jewish Women in Postwar America.

• A collection of essays, The State We’re In, from Minnesota Historical Press includes one by Linda Schloff about Jewish women in Virginia integrating into the community.

• We won! We have been awarded a Minnesota Cultural Heritage Legacy Grant funded by the Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund to conduct oral histories about Jewish settlement in St. Louis Park. Please help us uncover the stories about life in St. Louis Park in the 1950’s and 60’s. Send names of individuals to interview to

• JHSUM was invited by the Midwest Art Conservation Center to participate in their Subsidized Survey Program in October 2009. The Conservation survey is an opportunity for archives and museums to receive a complete conservation audit of collections and facilities at a dramatically reduced rate. The audit identifies an institution’s strengths and problem areas with respect to preservation practices, which then informs the planning and writing process for large, federally funded grant projects. JHSUM jumped on the opportunity based on our 100% success rate receiving federally funded grants.

• Iric Nathanson, a JHSUM member and past contributor to several JHSUM publications and programs has recently published a new history of Minneapolis featuring two chapters on Jewish community relations. The book, entitled Minneapolis in the Twentieth Century: The Growth of an American City is published by Minnesota Historical Society Press.

• Our Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives will have materials in the upcoming exhibit “Below the Surface: Ten Years of Archive and Special Collections in Elmer Andersen Library” running from March 29 to June 25 in the Library Gallery. The show looks at universal themes, including power, death, love, faith war and beauty through the lens of archival materials.

• Selected JHSUM photos and descriptions of those photos are now available on Flickr Commons, an extension of the popular Flickr web site that pioneered photo sharing. For a look, go to

• JHSUM received prominent thanks in their 100th anniversary publication from Jewish Family and Children’s Services for help provided with organizing JFCS historical materials for their year long centennial celebration. Congratulations to the JFCS staff and administration for a century of extraordinary service to the Minneapolis community.