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B'nai Emet -> About our Synagogue  -> History

Congregation B’nai Abraham originated in 1889 in a South Minneapolis neighborhood of Rumanian immigrants. The 1891 articles of incorporation of the "Rumanian Schil" or the "Rumanian Hebrew Congregation" were signed by S. Rosenthal, Louis Jaeger, Louis Wolfson, M. Wunderman, B. Edelstein, Isaac Singer, M. Brinig, and S. Schwartz. An amendment to the articles was signed in 1894 by I. Kaufman, M.I. Rigler, H. Rigler, and Isadore Friedman.

For many years, the congregation functioned without a rabbi, though a cantor was brought in for the high holidays. Dedicated lay leaders provided regular services, religious study, fellowship, and a Jewish burial society that functioned as a social and charitable organization.

The congregation’s first home was located on 15th Avenue South between 3rd and 4th Streets. The structure seated about 300 people and was packed every Saturday morning and afternoon. The group prayed in the Rumanian manner.

The second building, B’nai Abraham’s home for 36 years, was located at 825 Thirteenth Avenue South, purchased in 1920 for $10,000. In the early days, the synagogue had its own Talmud Torah. In 1927, when Minneapolis Talmud Torah built a South Side structure, B’nai Abraham closed its Talmud Torah.

Leaders of the congregation in those days included Nahum Cohen, Charles Juster, Zadel Cohen, Moshe Brill, Max Friedman, Aaron Herman, Max Filister, and Isadore Zeesman. Women’s League presidents included Mmes. Abe Smilar, Ben Feldman, Max Filister, Mandel Desnick, Rose Rosenthal, Max Bernstein, and Louis Robitz.

In 1942, Rabbi Hardin led the congregation for about two years. Later, Rabbi Reuben Maier became spiritual leader of the congregation. Rabbi Maier’s wife Sophie was the daughter of Safron, grand Rabbi of Rumania until his death. In 1952, Rabbi Mordecai Liebhaber succeeded Rabbi Maier, leading the congregation through a difficult period of adjustment and providing the leadership and energy needed during the relocation to St. Louis Park.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, many of the members were leaving the old south Minneapolis neighborhood. From 1946-1956, only about ten families carried on the traditions of the old synagogue.

Meanwhile, St. Louis Park B’nai B’rith began to hold meetings to consider establishing a communal building in St. Louis Park to meet the spiritual, educational, and social needs of the Park’s growing Jewish population. Spirited discussions resulted in a decision to establish a combined synagogue-Jewish center. B’nai Abraham became the congregation that would work with B’nai B’rith to achieve this end. Some of the B’nai Abraham individuals involved in that joint project were Lewis Schwartz, Norman Abrams, Isadore Zeesman and Maurice Baratz. St. Louis Park residents who were instrumental included Burt Savitt, Ben Pliam, Sherman Greenberg, Mandel Desnick, and Norman Cohen.

In the mid-1950s, the congregation purchased two adjacent houses standing on the present synagogue site at Highway 7 and Ottawa Avenue. As of May, 1956, these two houses were used for a chapel, congregational office, and classrooms. High holiday services were held at Aldersgate Methodist Church and the Calhoun Beach Club. One of the houses was ultimately demolished to make room for the synagogue building, and the other is still in use as the caretaker’s residence.

With the proceeds of the sale of the south Minneapolis property, augmented by a fund-raising drive, the congregation built a new sanctuary and center, which were dedicated in June, 1959. This building had a number of multi-purpose rooms. The sanctuary, which seated 80, opened to a space used for an auditorium (increasing seating capacity to 1000) and gymnasium. Many current B’nai Emet members have fond memories of basketball games played in those days in the convertible sanctuary.

Under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Moses Sachs, from May 1958 until the subsequent merger, this building, humble as it was, was the center of a great deal of activity. The synagogue was home to a nursery school for children aged 3-5, and various religious education programs for children from kindergarten through grade 12. The synagogue housed the Shechter Institute, a study program for 11th and 12th graders which was jointly sponsored by three conservative synagogues. Special Saturday programs for youth included junior and senior high choirs, a Torah reading society, a choral reading society and Torah discussion groups. Youth groups meeting at the synagogue included United Synagogue Juniors, Intermediates, and Youth, a Scout troop, and BBYO. Women’s League, Men’s Club, and a Golden Age group were active as well.

With its new building and vibrant activity, membership in B’nai Abraham grew from 10 families before the move in the 1950s to 400 families in 1971. In May, 1971, the members of B’nai Abraham and Congregation Mikro-Tifereth voted to merge, creating B’nai Emet Synagogue, under the leadership of Rabbi Sylvan Kamens.

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