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Beth Jacob Congregation, Mendota Heights

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Color photograph of the exterior of Beth Jacob Congregation c. 2012 by Lee Prohofsky.

Beth Jacob Congregation is a Conservative synagogue located in Mendota Heights. It was formed in 1985 when Sons of Jacob, St. Paul's second-oldest synagogue, merged with a group of young worshipers who came together in 1984.

Beth Jacob's roots go back to 1869. A group of Eastern European Jews merchants settled in St. Paul. German Jews had settled there earlier. The Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jews preferred to gather separately rather than join Mount Zion, the synagogue the German Jews founded. They called their congregation Chevrah B'nai Ya'akov (Congregation of the Sons of Jacob), and incorporated it on March 20, 1875. It was soon known as the "Polish shul" (synagogue). It met in various locations in downtown St. Paul near today's State Capitol. In 1879, the thirty or so families that made up the congregation began meeting on College Avenue, between Wabasha and St. Peter Streets. In 1888 they built a handsome brick structure on the same site. It seated six hundred and featured a Hebrew School and library.

Even after the congregation followed its members west to the Selby and Summit area in the 1930s, the group's second nickname, the "College Avenue shul," stuck. In 1946, B'nai Ya'akov merged with a small group called the Hebrew Seminary Congregation. The new group Anglicized its name to Sons of Jacob. Worship services now took place in a rented house on Summit Avenue. In 1947, the growing congregation was able to build a new facility with a social hall and chapel, one block north at 1466 Portland.

Sons of Jacob was a vibrant Orthodox congregation in the post-war years. When a number of synagogues on St. Paul's West Side flats closed due to changing population trends, Sons of Jacob's membership swelled, reaching about five hundred families at its peak. By the late 1950s, Sons of Jacob had modified its Orthodox religious practices somewhat. One example was that men and women sat together during services.

Many St. Paul Jews moved to the Highland Park neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s. Younger families were attracted to the more liberal practices of Conservative Judaism and the resources for families offered nearby at the Temple of Aaron. Sons of Jacob's aging congregation was unable to maintain the Portland Avenue facility. Reluctantly, they sold the building to a church in 1982.
At this critical juncture, Sons of Jacob could easily have disappeared. Another St. Paul synagogue, Adath Israel (Orthodox), proposed a merger. Sons of Jacob itself considered merging with Temple of Aaron. Both proposals were rejected. Sons of Jacob wanted to maintain its historic identity. It rented temporary space at the St. Paul Jewish Community Center (JCC). They hoped to eventually build a new home on land they owned in Mendota Heights.

Meanwhile, a new congregation formed in 1984. It called itself the "New Conservative Congregation." They too were meeting at the St. Paul JCC. Soon, Sons of Jacob and the new congregation were holding joint Sabbath services. The older group had funds from the sale of their former home and owned land. The new group's younger members had energy and commitment. The merger that occurred in 1985 seemed inevitable. Documentary evidence, nevertheless, records sadness and hard feelings by some Sons of Jacob members.

The new congregation took the name Beth Jacob. It immediately affiliated with the Conservative movement. While Beth Jacob looked for a rabbi during its first year, it was led by lay scholar-in-residence Earl Schwartz. In 1986, Rabbi Morris Allen became rabbi, and was officially installed in 1987. The new building, designed by McMonigal Architects LLC in Mendota Heights, opened in fall 1988.

In 2012, Allen continues to lead Beth Jacob and its 375 member households. The congregation has received nine national awards for innovative and creative programming. In 2008, the national Jewish newspaper Forward included Allen among the top fifty Jewish leaders in the United States for his role devising a new system, Hekhsher Tzedek (Justice Certification). This certification ensures that conditions under which kosher food is produced are ethical and humane. In 2012, Emma Kipley-Ogman became Beth Jacob's first assistant rabbi and the only Conservative woman pulpit rabbi in the Twin Cities.

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Berman, Hyman, and Linda Mack Schloff. Jews in Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2002.

Beth Jacob Congregation.
http://beth-jacob.org

Carter, Jack N. "A Synopsis of the History of the Sons of Jacob Synagogue From 1869 to 1985." Typescript, 1988.
Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Description: Untitled booklet and congregational history, created in honor of building dedication.

Chiat, Marilyn. "Synagogues of Minnesota: Place and Space." Paper presented at Bet Shalom Congregation, Minnetonka, MN, May 24, 2005.
Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

"Forward 50, 2008." Jewish Daily Forward, 2008.
http://forward.com/forward-50-2008/#ixzz2GBxfVBQn

Freedman, Samuel G. "Rabbi's Campaign for Kosher Standards Expands to Include Call for Social Justice." New York Times, May 19, 2007.

French, Rose. "Rabbi returns to her home in metro." Star Tribune, November 10, 2012.

Plaut, W. Gunther. The Jews in Minnesota: The First Seventy-five Years. American Jewish Communal Histories, no. 3. New York: American Jewish Historical Society, 1959.

Magen Tzedek: An Ethical Certification for Kosher Food. Leadership Profiles, Rabbi Morris Allen.
http://www.magentzedek.org/about-us/leadership-profiles/

Related Images

Black and white photograph of exterior, Sons of Jacob Congregation.
Black and white photograph of exterior, Sons of Jacob Congregation.
Black and white photograph of Sons of Jacob addition groundbreaking ceremony.
Black and white photograph of Sons of Jacob addition groundbreaking ceremony.
Black and white photograph of Yom Kippur service at Sons of Jacob.
Black and white photograph of Yom Kippur service at Sons of Jacob.
Black and white photograph of Young Judea convention at Sons of Jacob.
Black and white photograph of Young Judea convention at Sons of Jacob.
Black and white photograph of Sons of Jacob Temple Queens.
Black and white photograph of Sons of Jacob Temple Queens.

Turning Point

An aging congregation on the verge of closing, St. Paul's Sons of Jacob, founded in 1869, merges with a young start-up group in 1985 to form Beth Jacob, today an inclusive, traditional Conservative synagogue located in Mendota Heights.

Chronology

1869

Chevrah B'nai Ya'akov, (Congregation of the Sons of Jacob), is formed with twelve members.

1888

The congregation erects a new brick building at 16 College Avenue.

1946

Sons of Jacob merges with Hebrew Seminary Congregation, which was had formed two years earlier in 1944. The Orthodox congregation now worships in a rented house on Summit Avenue.

1947

Sons of Jacob builds a new synagogue at 1466 Portland Avenue.

1970s

As children grow up and move away, the Sons of Jacob votes to become a Conservative congregation in an attempt to attract new members.

1972

Declining membership leads to a decision to sell the Portland Avenue building. A core group of members dreams of eventually establishing a home on land the congregation owned in Mendota Heights.

1982

The congregation rents space at the St. Paul JCC to conduct traditional services.

1984

A group calling itself "New Conservative Congregation" holds its first service, also at St. Paul JCC.

1985

Sons of Jacob merges with New Conservative Congregation, changes its name to Beth Jacob, and affiliates with United Synagogue of America.

1988

A new synagogue building is dedicated in Mendota Heights.

2012

Led for its entire existence by Rabbi Morris Allen, Beth Jacob is recognized nationally for its innovative programming and for Allen's leadership in a movement to ensure that ethical and humane standards are followed in the kosher food industry.