Temple Israel, the first Jewish congregation in Minneapolis, was organized in 1878 and was originally named Shaarai Tov, "The Gates of Goodness." The 23 founding members rented a hall at Nicollet and Washington Avenues for Friday night worship services, and taught Sunday school classes in the president's home.
By the time the founders had built their first synagogue two years later – a small, Moorish-style wooden building on 5th Street and Marquette Avenue – the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society, established in 1877, had changed their name to Shaarai Tov Sisterhood. Their original purpose had been to care for the sick, prepare the dead for burial, and help new immigrants and the Jewish poor. But now they also sponsored lectures, recitals, dances, dinners and bazaars to raise money for their new synagogue.
In 1888, Shaarai Tov members moved their building to the corner of 10th Street and 5th Avenue South. When it burned down in 1902, the congregation, still fewer than 100 families, built a new stone synagogue on the site at a cost of $18,000.
Growth and Change During the Deinard Era
Early rabbis at Shaarai Tov made many changes to traditional Orthodox religious practice. Neither the rabbi nor his congregants covered their heads to worship, Confirmation for 16-year-olds replaced the traditional Bar Mitzvah at age 13, and a new English-Hebrew prayer book was introduced. When Rabbi Samuel N. Deinard was hired at a salary of $2,000 per year in 1901, more changes came, and came quickly.
Rabbi Deinard mailed postcards to members urging them to attend Friday evening services and bring their friends, who were captivated by his scholarly sermons and the Americanized religious service. He grew up in Palestine and urged the community to help Jewish pioneers who wanted to settle there. He founded the Twin Cities's weekly newspaper, the American Jewish World, and acted as a peacemaker between Orthodox Jews arriving from Eastern Europe and the German Jews and older settlers already in Minneapolis. By 1907, 125 families were members of Shaarai Tov, with 100 students in Sunday school and Hebrew classes.
By now the city's population was on the move. People began building houses in the area between Lyndale and Humboldt, and 26th Street and Franklin Avenue. In 1914, with their congregation growing and 200 students in religious school, Shaarai Tov paid $14,000 for a community house at 24th and Emerson to use for classrooms and offices. They rented the Lyceum Theatre for services on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
In 1920, the congregation changed its name to Temple Israel. On Oct. 12, 1921, Rabbi Deinard died of a heart attack, just as Temple members gathered to observe the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
The Minda Years: Members Working Together
The stricken congregation chose Albert G. Minda, from South Bend, Indiana, as their new rabbi. He had been ordained just three years earlier. But he too was an innovator and quickly became a community leader. He revised the religious school curriculum and set up joint teacher training with Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul. He encouraged young men in the congregation to start a Men's Club.
The congregation continued to grow and, under Rabbi Minda's leadership, a new edifice was built. On Sept. 1, 1928, Temple Israel members attended the inaugural service of the new synagogue, designed by architect Jack Liebenberg. The Temple's pillared facade on Emerson Avenue, the site of the former community house, reflects Greek influence on early Judaism. The five doors represent the five books of the Torah--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Twelve columns in the sanctuary signify the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. The acanthus leaves in the organ grilles are a reminder of the Jews' suffering as slaves in Egypt. And the windows are dedicated to the Creation, the Patriarchs, Exodus, the Temple, the Prophets, and post-Biblical ideals of one world and one humanity. The sanctuary, of unusual acoustical excellence, seats 950 people. A smaller chapel across the hall is dedicated to Rabbi Deinard.
In 1929 came the Great Depression. The congregation had borrowed $150,000 on pledges from members to build their new $225,000 Temple. Now many could not pay their pledges or their dues – and so the "Rigadoo" was born; a weekend carnival where Men's Club and Sisterhood solicited sale goods and prizes. In five years "Rigadoo" netted $25,000, enough to save Temple and its credit rating.
Bridges with the Past and the Community
People came to Temple Israel to hear Rabbi Minda's thought-provoking sermons. He also appealed to his congregants' emotions by building new bridges between contemporary Judaism and its tradition-filled past. At Friday night services, the Kiddush – the blessing over the wine – was chanted and Sabbath candles were lit. On Rosh Hashanah, the shofar, a ram's horn, was blown. A choir and a cantor sang liturgical music. At the Oneg Shabbat reception after services, Sisterhood members served desserts and coffee.
Rabbi Minda also expanded Temple's involvement in the community. He joined clergy at neighboring churches in educational programs and fought racial and religious prejudice as a founder of the Minneapolis Urban League and the Minneapolis Round Table of Christians and Jews. In 1940 he established a Jewish art gallery and museum on the Temple premises. A religious school addition was built in 1955.
Rabbi Minda was a founder and the first president of the Minneapolis Federation for Jewish Service (now the Minneapolis Jewish Federation). He was president from 1961 through 1963 of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the governing body of the Reform Jewish Rabbis. Among other honors, he received the United Fund of Hennepin County Distinguished Service Award and the Minneapolis Mayor's Distinguished Service Award.
In 1940, Sisterhood members began a statewide Library of Congress Braille transcribing and training program to provide books for the blind. Meanwhile, Temple's Boy Scout Troup No. 10, which continued for more than 30 years, went camping on Minnehaha Creek and played basketball in Temple Israel's unfinished basement. Camp TEKO began as a day camp in 1945, with campers going swimming at Lake Nokomis until the Men's Club purchased and developed a campsite at Lake Minnetonka in 1965 for the use of Camp TEKO. It has become a vital part of Temple's education program, not only as a day camp, but as an overnight camp and adult program center.
By 1954 many Temple members were attending Adult Learning classes to study Bible, Hebrew, Jewish history and other topics. In 1958, a daily 5:45 p.m. Worship Service in Deinard Chapel began, conducted by volunteers for those who wanted to commemorate the death of a family member or friend. In 1960, under Jerry Robbins's leadership, Temple began inviting church groups to attend Friday evening services and learn about Temple's history, Jewish art and ceremonial objects. Other programs begun in the '60s and '70s included Couples Club and New Horizons, a pioneer in programming social and cultural events for active seniors.
"Personal Rabbi" in an Era of Change
In 1963, Rabbi Minda retired and was succeeded by Rabbi Max Shapiro, who had come to Temple in 1955 as Assistant Rabbi.
Rabbi Shapiro introduced such innovations to Temple as reading Torah on Friday evenings, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah program, and liturgical tracts to modernize the Sabbath and High Holy Day services. He increased the role of women in worship services and expanded the educational programs begun by Rabbi Minda.
Rabbi Shapiro's approach to congregation members was personal. It was said that he knew the names of each of the congregants and always greeted them with warmth and affection. His goal was to make a large congregation seem small.
Rabbi Shapiro encouraged Temple's Social Justice Committee to speak out on civil rights issues and help re-settle Vietnamese refugees and Soviet Jews. An Outreach Committee worked with those who wanted to learn about Reform Judaism. Interfaith Committee members dialogued with Christian congregations, organized interfaith Seders and, along with five neighborhood churches, developed the Neighborhood Involvement Program to provide medical and dental care, counseling, tutoring, food, clothing and other services to people in need. Under his initiative, Temple Israel joined six churches in an annual Thanksgiving Service.
It was a turbulent time for the country and the Twin Cities. Rabbi Shapiro spoke out on the issues of the day: desegregation, civil rights, civil liberty, Vietnam, anti-Semitism and more. His sermons were published in the American Jewish World and excerpts appeared regularly in the Minneapolis Tribune. Rabbi Shapiro had a prominent career in local and national activities. He was a founder and president of the Minnesota Council on Religion and Race, served on the State Commission Against Discrimination and the Minneapolis Committee on Fair Housing. He also represented Minnesota at the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr. and represented the Jewish community at the funeral of Senator Hubert H. Humphrey. He went to Washington for the formation of the Urban Coalition and was invited by President Carter to the signing of the Israel-Egyptian Peace Treaty.
By 1985 Temple Israel's membership had reached 1,850 families, making it the 10th largest Reform Jewish congregation in North America. Rabbi Shapiro was named Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel on June 30, 1985. He then became the first Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Learning at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Under his leadership the Center has become nationally and internationally known.
A Return to Tradition – and a Woman Rabbi
Beginning in 1985, Rabbi Stephen Pinsky continued Temple's tradition of involvement in the larger community. He taught Jewish history at Augsburg College, served on the Board of Minnesota's new International Treatment Center for Victims of Torture and on a national Rabbinic Commission on Synagogue Music.
He was also part of a national movement toward a more traditional style of worship with more Hebrew in the service, more emphasis on ritual and more Hebrew and Jewish education for children and adults. During his tenure, Temple hired its first woman rabbi, Marcia Zimmerman, and its first fully-trained cantor, Barry Abelson. A major building addition in 1987 added a new entrance on the parking lot, a 250 seat theater, meeting rooms, offices, and elevators to make Temple handicapped-accessible.
In 1992, Rabbi Joseph Edelheit came to Temple Israel from Chicago, Illinois. He, too, focused on education and on interfaith and social issues, as well as on continuing the move toward more traditional Friday night worship. He led a joint congregational tour of Israel for members of Temple Israel and the Basilica of St. Mary and served on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS during the Clinton administration. Congregants of all ages attended Rabbi Edelheit's innovative Saturday morning Torah Study sessions, and enrollment continued to grow in Religious School, Hebrew School, Nursery School and Day Care.
Temple Israel's Library is now a resource for scholars studying the history of Judaism and for Minneapolis's Jewish community. Yom Kippur worship has grown to include a special Memorial Service and the Book of Remembrance, which lists the departed we remember. The congregation now numbers nearly 2,000 families, and Temple continues to be what architect Jack Liebenberg called "an unfinished symphony," welcoming change as it continues to focus on worship, learning, integrating children and adults into a Jewish way of life, and on the need to be part of the community in which we live.
A Bright Future
In 2001, Rabbi Zimmerman became Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel, becoming the first woman Senior Rabbi of a congregation of over 2,000 families. She has led our historic congregation through exciting events during her tenure. The UAHC held its Biennial in Minneapolis in 2003. Our congregation beautifully renovated our magnificent sanctuary, and celebrated our 125th anniversary. Temple's halls are filled with Jewish learning, spirituality and culture, just as the congregation has had for over a century, and just as it will continue to have for many years to come.
Adapted from Temple Israel: A Brief History 1878-1987 by Rhoda G. Lewin
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