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.


Pick of the Archives: Rabbi Raskas

Among the interesting photographs and documents recently donated to the JHSUM were some clippings and eulogies about the passing of a prominent member of our community, not ordinarily the most significant donations we receive. What made these the choice for this Pick of the Archives was their subject, Rabbi Bernard Raskas, whose long and productive life ended in June, 2010.

Rabbi Raskas was the spiritual leader of Temple of Aaron, where he was served as chief Rabbi from 1951 to 1989, and Rabbi Emeritus from 1989 to 2000. Because he was a leader and spokesman for our community in so many ways, his biography, his writings and his leadership are well documented in our collection, where his inspiration and his wisdom are accessible to anyone who comes to look for himself.

Bernard Raskas was born in St Louis in 1924. His Orthodox family, who owned a dairy, was close-knit and valued Jewish scholarship. As a young student. he was considered a rising star., He wooed and won Laeh Halpern, the daughter of a prominent conservative St Louis Rabbi. Raskas was educated at Washington University and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

In 1952 shortly after he came as a new Rabbi to Temple of Aaron, the building was destroyed by a fire. Rabbi Raskas was instrumental in the building of the present Temple of Aaron on East River Road. He and Laeh were actively involved in the artistic decorations of the buiding, the banners and decorations that adorn the sanctuary and social hall. His gentle, humorous and persuasive manner was known in the wider community as well as the synagogue. He served as Jewish chaplain and faculty member at Macalester, where he was beloved by students and staff alike. He was active in St Paul civic affairs, was a supporter of the civil rights movement and a champion of women’s rights, especially within the Conservative movement. Rabbi Raskas and Laeh were passionate Zionists, and maintained a home in Israel, Both have been buried in Jerusalem.

In our collection at the JHSUM we have two books, Over the Years: an Anthology of Sermons, Articles and Writings , from 1985, and a more recent book, Blessings of Freedom, published in 2002. We also have a set of oral history interviews on tape. There is also a tribute book dating from 1989, as Rabbi Raskas began his formal retirement from Temple of Aaron after 38 years of service. Among the conventional messages of praise from civic leaders, there are interesting details of his years at Temple of Aaron. His services were innovative and creative, and as a writer, scholar and community leader he achieved nationwide recognition.

Since his retirement Rabbi Raskas continued to write, teach and serve his community, both in the religious and wider sense. The last contribution to his archive, is the eulogy delivered by an old friend, and two obituaries, one from the Highland Park Villager, and one from the Star Tribune, all written with deep respect for a life lived long and well. You can find all the details in our collection!



Tribute to one of JHSUM’s Founders

Read about Idell Silberman, one of JHSUM’s founders.



Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives

Click here to read some great articles on the Berman Upper Midwest Jewish archives. While you’re there be sure and subscribe to their blog so you get the latest news.


History of the Saint Paul Jewish Community

Synopsis of “We Rolled Up Our Sleeves” by Marilyn Chiat and Chester Proshan
By Judy Sherman

The early St Paul Jewish community, German immigrants at Mount Zion and more orthodox Eastern Jews at Sons of Jacob, had no unified social service organization and largely kept to themselves. But in 1882, when a trainload of Russian Jewish refugees fleeing pogroms began to arrive, members of Mount Zion and Sons of Jacob congregations joined forces to provide the impoverished new arrivals with food, clothing and jobs. This unified response set a pattern for community social action.

As more Eastern European immigrants arrived, many of them settled in “the Flats” on the West Side, a poor and bleak area abandoned by earlier groups of immigrants who had moved “up” into better housing. The earlier German immigrants separated themselves socially and religiously from the poorer, “greener” and more orthodox newcomers and shared in the prosperity of the growing city, although they continued to assist the poorer Jews. As the later immigrants prospered, they moved “up” as well and became less orthodox, founding the Conservative Temple of Aaron in 1916.

Anti- German sentiment during World War I, growing anti-Semitism between the World Wars and economic hardships during the thirties helped unify the community socially, and Zionism, which had been an important cause for some in the community since 1897, became a rallying point for many facets of the community. Increasing prosperity since World War II and the persistence of housing discrimination led to the concentration of Jewish population in areas such as Highland Park. Recently the number of Jews in St Paul has declined, and their average age has gone up.


History of the United Jewish Fund and Council (UJFC)

In Europe historically Jews had been treated as a people apart, and were forced to develop their own social and cultural institutions. By the 1870s religious institutions in St Paul, such as Mount Zion Congregation, needed to develop new patterns of service to remain viable. Did they limit their facilities and rituals to members only? In America, Jews were free to be members of the wider community, and many assimilated.

Traditions such as tzedakah, hevrah kadisha for burial of the indigent, and the “Ladies Benevolent Society” were supplemented by aid from the wider community, especially when poor immigrants poured in from Eastern Europe after 1882. The established community sought to “Americanize” the immigrants without losing them as Jews. To this end the community organized to fund and staff institutions such as employment bureaus, Sophie Wirth Camp “for tired Jewish mothers and children”, day nurseries, settlement houses and agricultural colonies in North Dakota. One aim was to keep the newcomers from becoming an embarrassment to the established community due to their poverty and foreignness.

The newer immigrants, many of whom came to St Paul by chance and not by choice, tried to meet their own economic and religious needs by establishing their own congregations. Many fraternal and “Landsmanshaft” organizations were founded along with at least eight Orthodox congregations on the West Side. There was little sense of a community as a whole, but as anti-Semitism and economic need grew in the ‘20s and 30’s the sense that unity was important grew. Many organizations meant inefficiencies in duplication of services and fund drives.

In 1932 the Council of Jewish Social Agencies was founded, formed by a conference of the Jewish Welfare Association. This precursor of the UJFC helped coordinate the activities of 28 organizations by 1940, and centralized Jewish fund-raising. In 1935 the United Jewish Fund was established, and a merger was proposed in 1943. By 1965 it was apparent that the patterns of Jewish assistance had shifted from the synagogues to the UJFC, influenced by the activism of non-religious Jews in the organization. Local rabbis were less active in the UJFC as the community became increasingly secularized. The UJFC and the synagogues had to work out an agreement about their roles and functions, as related to the specific beneficiary agencies.

Kokie Goldenberg speaking at a United Jewish Fund and Council rally in Saint Paul, Minnesota, 1949.

Kokie Goldenberg speaking at a United Jewish Fund and Council rally in Saint Paul, Minnesota, 1949.


Saint Paul Jewish Community Center (JCC)

The Neighborhood House, an organization to help poor immigrants on the West Side was founded in 1900 under the auspices of the Hebrew ladies Benevolent Society and the rabbis of Mt Zion. The settlement house offered classes in English, homemaking, and social and recreational activities. The Lowertown Community Center (Central Community House) opened in 1921 and moved to University Avenue in 1925, with the mission of preventing juvenile delinquency. Later in the 1920s both houses became more nonsectarian and Lowertown had become a Community Chest beneficiary. Other organizations such as B’nai B’rith, the YMHA and YWHA, and social clubs such as Aleph Beth sponsored activities at the houses with Jewish content.

All of these groups contributed to the emergence of the JCC in St Paul, but the main parent group was the Jewish Educational Center, which held educational and recreational activities in a 1930 building on the Hill to serve the needs of Jews who had moved west. The Depression severely affected the JEC’s financial status and in 1934 it received funding from the St Paul Community Chest, under the name Jewish Center Activities Association (JCAA). The JCAA developed musical, theatre and scouting groups, and indeed became the center of the St Paul Jewish community, although secondarily its programs were open to the wider community. By 1939 a popular day camp was established, and during WWII programs for servicemen were established. In 1948 connections with a Hebrew School were severed.

After WWII the community shifted to Highland Park, and in 1956 purchased a building on Cretin. Sophie Wirth Camp closed, and Jack Butwin Day Camp opened in 1958 to meet the needs of middle-class families. In 1963, under the auspices of the UJF, ground was broken for the current center building.

The growing membership is served by many programs including Israeli-oriented classes, retaining of a shaliach, physical education classes, programs for Russian immigrants especially the elderly, and programs for handicapped children. JCC realizes that it must be ready to change and grow if it is to meet the needs of a changing community.

Volunteer with sign at the Jewish Community Center, Saint Paul, Minnesota,1940.

Volunteer with sign at the Jewish Community Center, Saint Paul, Minnesota,1940.


The Menorah Society was founded in 1903, originally as the University Jewish Literary Society, to “cultivate ….and discuss… topics related to Judaism”, but mainly as a social group. It enrolled Jewish faculty members and most of the Jewish students on campus (who were predominantly male). Funding and the lack of a permanent home were early concerns, and despite growing membership and activities Menorah never had its own home. In the 1930’s the UJF gave them an emergency grant. Several other Jewish groups also existed on campus, sponsored by Temple Israel and Jewish professional and social fraternities and sororities.

The U of Mn Hillel Society was founded in 1940, with Rabbi Milgrom its first director. By 1941 the membership of over 500 enjoyed a full agenda of programs including classes, discussion groups, debate, drama and social activities. Hillel activities were intended not to overlap with those of existing Jewish groups on campus, including Menorah, which eventually merged with Hillel. The lack of a permanent home was an issue as early as 1943, and the UJFC sanctioned a fund drive in 1945. A permanent building (the current one) was purchased in 1956. Even without a home, activities included a model seder, Friday night services and dinners, and activities, such as vocational guidance, for returning veteran students.

In the 1960’s and 70’s problems such as insufficient funding, unpaid pledges and declining student interest became more serious. New services such as non-credit Jewish studies classes, a kosher meat cooperative and a Jewish bookstore were offered to increase relevance for its constituency. A 1980 evaluation conducted with the Minneapolis and St Paul Federations suggested more ways to increase relevance and participation. The facilities were renovated in 1981.

Jewish Community Relations Council–Anti-Defamation League JCRC-ADL

Anti-Semitic incidents in Minnesota date back to the 1880s. They were addressed by the Anti-Defamation Committee of B’nai B’rith beginning in 1913. B’nai B’rith lobbied against real estate restrictions, but although legislation was passed banning restrictive covenants in 1918, housing discrimination against Jews continued well into the 1950’s. Rabbi Samuel Deinard in the American Jewish World publicized anti-Semitic incidents. The Klan was active in Minnesota through the 1920’s, and although its membership declined after that, the Great Depression brought an increase in hate groups such as the Silver Shirts, a nativist and fascist group.

In the 1938 gubernatorial campaign overtly anti-Semitic activities, including a raw anti-Semitic cartoon, accusing some in the DFL of being pro-Communist were fostered by some of Harold Stassen’s campaign workers. This galvanized the Jewish community to form a group to openly combat anti-Semitism, which requested a small amount of funding from the UJF and the Minneapolis Federation. The organization sought to remain independent of the national B’nai B’rith ADL, but to cooperate with the group. Samuel Scheiner, hired as Executive Director in 1939, was charged with investigating reports of anti-Semitic activities and maintaining outstate offices. This was the first completely independent state-wide Jewish community relations agency in the US. In cooperation with the Chicago and other offices of the ADL, information about anti-Jewish agitators was publicized, and anti-Semitic remarks by school teachers, hate-filled leaflets and swastika paintings were noted and protested. Typical activities included letter-writing campaigns, requests for apologies (and threats of boycotts) and monitoring of letters-to-editors in papers statewide.

In the 1940s self-monitoring of Jewish community, housing issue complaints and quiet attempts to settle problems were developed. Attempts to subvert anti-discrimination laws by real estate agents, resorts and employers using euphemisms such as “selected clientele” were exposed by the ADL. A cooperative relationship was formed with the NAACP, and anti-Semitic union practices were investigated, resulting in the United Labor Committee for Human Rights. Outreach to the rural Minnesota population, which was vulnerable to anti-Semitic propaganda because they had no contact with Jews, was developed, via the 4-H Radio Speaking Contest and other programs. As WWII ended, an expected increase in anti-Semitic activities was noticed, highlighted by the 1946 Carey McWilliams article calling Minneapolis the “capital of anti-Semitism in the United States”. By 1952 the number of overtly anti-Semitic incidents had decreased, and the focus of the organization shifted to overcoming ignorance and working for better community understanding.

In the 1950s Scheiner warned against McCarthyism, fearing that charges of Communism would discourage attempts at intercultural education. The increasing “Christianization” of public education, particularly at holiday times, was a concern. Unhappiness with the operation of the local ADL led to a reorganization in 1959 to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota, and in 1975 a merger with the B’nai B’rith ADL to form the JCRC/ADL. While continuing to combat anti-Semitism, the focus has shifted to the support of Israel in the community and defense of Jews abroad.



JHSUM awarded 3 Legacy grants!

JHSUM is working to ensure the Upper Midwest Jewish Story is part of Minnesota Historical Society’s on line encyclopedia. We are hard at work creating 15 entries of Minnesota’s synagogues and 15 entries of our Jewish institutions and organizations.

MNopedia site makes history fun

If you don’t know much about Minnesota history, here’s a chance to upgrade your ignorance — and add your own comments — without leaving your La-Z-Boy.

The Minnesota Historical Society has launched a prototype of the first online state encyclopedia, dubbed MNopedia, and it’s as easily surfable as it is informative. In a matter of minutes, you can bone up on John Beargrease of sled-dog race fame, the harrowing St. Anthony Falls tunnel collapse of 1869, and a wonderfully concise 3,000-year architectural overview by Larry Millett, beginning with Indian burial mounds and ending with suburban big-box stores.

Did you know that way back in the late 1800s, Fredrick McGhee, the state’s first African-American attorney, was a prominent St. Paul trial lawyer and that milling titan Charles Pillsbury started one of the nation’s first profit-sharing plans for company employees?
Well, now you do.

Mikro Kodesh, Minneapolis.

Mikro Kodesh, Minneapolis.

MNopedia entries may be scholarly, but they aren’t dry. In an essay by historian and professor Annette Atkins on the development of Minneapolis and St. Paul as both twins and rivals, the author muses, “Wouldn’t every citizen’s life be improved if, for example, the cities adopted the same snow emergency rules?”

The launch was paid for with $215,000 from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund segment of the state’s Legacy Amendment, and the grant has been renewed for 2012. As a “beta” site, it’s currently offering limited entries from Minnesota’s industrial era, and will continue building expert-provided content and photo archives, said editor Erica Hartmann.

The Historical Society had long planned to try to produce a print encyclopedia, but the online alternative proved much less costly, easier to update and more interactive, she said. Drawing inspiration from similar sites created by the states of Virginia and Georgia, as well as Sydney, Australia, and the country of New Zealand, the site’s developers consulted many local historians and educators on topic categories and content, which will adhere to state educational standards for use in classrooms.

Asked whether Wikipedia doesn’t already cover much of this territory, Hartmann stressed that while Wikipedia is “a valuable resource already out there,” MNopedia’s writers must have proven expertise, and that fact-checking will be more scrupulous on the state site.
“We name the authors and our content is vetted,” she said. Take note, students about to start school and get assigned papers.
Another difference: Because MNopedia’s scope is more limited than Wikipedia’s, “we’ll be more able to find the needles in the haystacks that a Wiki editor wouldn’t necessarily know about.”

These standards don’t mean citizens are prohibited from contributing to the site. The Historical Society wants public input on content to be added and offers the chance to comment after every entry.
“Minnesotans are paying for it, so they should help shape what’s in it,” she said.

To weigh in, go to and click “Discuss.”

Click here to see JHSUM’s first article on MNopedia about Mikro Kodesh Synagogue in Minneapolis!


Hat tip to our Legacy grant partner Adath Jeshurun

The Adath Jeshurun Foundation is the proud recipient of a Minnesota Historical and Cultural Grant to fund the L’Dor V’Dor Archival Processing Project, a partnership between Adath Jeshurun Congregation and the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest (JHSUM). The grant will fund nine months of a twelve month project to access, organize and catalog 127 years of archival materials documenting the history of Minnesota’s oldest Jewish Conservative congregation, to preserve Adath’s heritage and make it available to Minnesota in a useful form. The final collection will span the history of Adath Jeshurun, Bnai Emet and its predecessor congregations, Mikro Kodesh, Tefereth Bnai Jacob, B’nai Abraham and Mikro-Tefereth, and will eventually be housed in the Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives at the University of Minnesota.

This makes 8 State of Minnesota Legacy grants for JHSUM and our partners!

Adath torahs removed form Dupont Ave.

Adath torahs removed form Dupont Ave.



Jewish Camping

It has been a bad year for Bob Dylan: first and foremost the Christmas album, and prior to that, the discovery that a poem purportedly written by then 16 year old Bob Zimmerman and published in the Herzl Camp newspaper was really penned by Canadian country artist Hank Snow. Whoops. Well everybody makes mistakes, and a bit of altered truth does nothing to dim Dylan’s legend. The flurry of reporting on this subject, however, offered Herzl Camp 48 hours of national fame. Bob Zimmerman attended the camp in the summer of 1957, by which time it had already been offering Jewish youth summer camping with a Zionist flavor for a decade.

Sophie Wirth Camp, 1939.

Sophie Wirth Camp, 1939.

Herzl began operation in 1946, with the intention of being overly Zionist- that in addition to teaching appreciation for Jewish traditions and offering summer camping fun. The first year of camp was held at the Old Sophie Wirth site on White Bear Lake, and then moved in 1947 to Webster, Wisconsin, where it remains. Writing about the camp, Ruth Brin (of blessed memory) wrote of Herzl Camp:

” … Campers will remember “Here’s to Dear old Herzl” sung at the top of their lungs, as well as havdallah services on the waterfront with a burning Mogen David floating on the water. An experience remembered by many, and repeated over the years was the all day activity simulating the founding of Israel. Some campers, dressed as immigrants, came by boat from across the lake, while others hiked through the woods to converge at the lake shore. Upon meeting, campers set up a settlement akin to one in Eretz Israel, where they would speak Hebrew and learn Israeli songs and dances.”-

JHSUM has materials from a number of different Midwestern Jewish summer camps, beginning with the establishment of Sophie Wirth Camp in 1911. The camp, sponsored by the Jewish Relief Society, was the first kosher camp in the Upper Midwest. Originally named the Lake Rest Vacation Home Camp, the impetus for the camp was to offer children a place to recreate outside the confines of the city and to provide a moment of respite for “Overtired mothers … ” When the camp was consolidated in 1923 by Neighborhood House, the name was changed to Camp Sophie Worth in honor of Neighborhood House’s founder. A bulletin from 1926 noted that the camp had capacity for 90 campers as well as a staff of 25. Ruth Brin, noted in one of her camp memoirs that

“The staff and the Council (Of Jewish Women) were all for teaching and learning, developing good health habits, and even “Americanizing”, but the kids were there to have fun. Curious items were occasionally run up the flagpole, rest hours were sometimes violated, and kids who were not underweight would sneak into the “extra milk and cookies” line.

Camp Tikvah in Atkin Minnesota was purchased in 1947 by a group that included Sam Finkelstein and Ellis Peilen, with the intention of creating a camp to be affiliated with the new Minneapolis Jewish Community Center that was in its early planning stages. Tikvah could take in up to 100 campers, who came for periods ranging from two weeks to a month. The camp excelled in providing both outdoor and arts experiences, as well as offering Israeli scout and Sh’lichim visits, kosher food, Jewish programming and Shabbat services. The camp closed in 1983.

Council Camp came into being during the depths of the Depression. Activists in the community believed that offering a camping experience to children who had seen little of life’s ease or nature’s beauty could benefit from a camping experience. The physical camp was built as part of FDR’s Works Projects Administration program, which among it’s many activities built community camping facilities around the US. Part of the agreement between the WPA and the Jewish Camping program was that 1/3rd of the campers be “low-income”, and that fees were to be adjusted according to a family’s ability to pay. The first site, in Hinckley, MN, was followed by a new site in Aitkin.Because of Council Camps reliance on Federal support, the camp was non-sectarian, but operated based on the observance of Jewish principles. Services were held on Friday evening, when campers dressed in white and sat down to traditional shabbos meals, complete with singing and candlelight.

Jewish summer camping served and still successfully serves a multitude of purposes: providing outdoors and recreating opportunities for young people, educating youth about Jewish tradition, Israel solidarity and Hebrew language skills, and developing leadership skills in the next generation of Jewish community leaders.


A History Snapshot

I once had an acquaintance who, upon viewing the Minnesota History Center, murmured, “such a large building for so little history.” While it is true that the history of European settlement in this region does not cover millennia, it still behooves us to know something about it, and in the context of this newsletter, a little bit of early St. Paul Jewish history. A few Jews were drawn here before the area became the Minnesota territory in 1849. An English-born Jew named Maurice Mordecai Samuel settled in the St. Croix valley, married an Indian woman, and ran a trading post for some time prior to the Civil War. Fur trading and the promise of cheap land was always a draw.

The first Jews to come to the village of St. Paul generally arrived by riverboat in the 1850s. Roads were non-existent, and dogsled travel was confined to wintertime. Names like Elfelt, Ullmann, Solomon, Noah, Cardozo (the only Sephardic pioneer) are recorded in the early records of Mount Zion Congregation, founded in 1856, two years before the territory gained statehood. They were generally born in German-speaking lands, were young, had lived in other parts of the United States, and arrived with some capital with which to begin business. Most of the early members opened clothing stores, while the wealthiest were fur traders . Indeed Joseph Ullmann became so successful that he opened branches in Chicago, New York, and Leipzig, Germany. He and his wife returned to Europe after selling the bulk of his business to his nephews. It continued for over a century as the Rose Brothers Fur Company .

Mount Zion’s membership waxed and waned with national economic cycles, for it was not until 1871 that the congregation felt secure enough economically to build a simple structure at 10th and Minnesota Streets and hire a rabbi. Congregants lived nearby, at first in what is now the downtown area , while with prosperity they moved to the area now called the Capitol Heights.

A small group of Lithuanian and Polish Jews had arrived by the end of the Civil War. They too settled along the northern reaches of the downtown area and along Payne Avenue. They also appear to have arrived with some cash, because they soon established stores and manufacturing concerns, and one was even a physician. These people founded Sons of Jacob some time in the early 1870s and purchased a building on 1 I ‘h and Minnesota Streets to use.

Mount Zion 1881

Mount Zion 1881

By the 1870s St. Paul was no longer a frontier town. The communal structure was not as fluid, and Jews were not as welcome in every social gathering. The arrival of the “Polish” Jews manifested itself in a fracturing of the Jewish community, evident in the establishment of the Standard Club, an extension, to all extents and purposes, of Mount Zion as well as a turn by that congregation toward the Reform movement.

The city received its largest influx of Jews beginning in the early 1880s. The assassination of Czar Alexander II and the advent of pogroms, along with worsening economic conditions sent Jews fleeing over the borders. Countries like Germany and

England were not anxious to host these penniless refugees and moved them on over the ocean. In 1882 alone, around 250 Russian Jews arrived in St. Paul. They more than matched the established Jewish population and overwhelmed their ability to take care of these desperate people. City officials and civic groups stepped us to help house, feed, cloth, and find jobs for them. They found the newcomers work on railroads, on road crews, and in their trades of cigar making, carpentry and cabinet making. With these new arrivals the Jewish community had been irrevocably changed.


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“.


JHSUM Makes Some History of Our Own!


150 years of Jewish Upper Midwest History is now safely secured at The Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives housed in the Andersen Libraries Special Collections Archival space four stories underground at the University of Minnesota. JHSUM has deeded our archival materials to the care of the University. We are very excited to have brokered a permanent relationship with the University ensuring our materials are now safe and secure for generations to come. Use of our collections increased 10 fold since introducing our on line database, an increase our very limited staff could not sustain. Now researchers from anywhere in the world can be served 24 hours a day as well as in person six days a week at the U of MN Berman Archives.


Make no mistake JHSUM is not going out of business. JHSUM will still collect and preserve three dimensional cultural objects. We are turning to public exhibits and programming. Something we do very well. More exciting news about a future gallery of Upper Midwest Jewish Stories will be released soon.


The new home for 150 years of Upper Midwest Jewish Experience