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Ohel Jacob, Minneapolis

 In 1888, a group of men who came from the Lithuanian section of the Pale of Settlement established a congregation named O’Hel Jacob (Tent of Jacob), the third Jewish congregation established in Minneapolis (Sha’ari Tob and Adath Jeshuran preceded it).  Worship services and meetings were held upstairs of a member’s store located at 605 2nd Avenue North except on the High Holidays when in order to accommodate the large numbers who attended services, the congregation would rent Turner Hall at Washington and Fifth Avenue North. However, a near tragedy, the sagging of the floor above the store where they usually met, led to the congregation’s decision to erect a synagogue. A lot was purchased at 527-529 Fourth Street North, the same time O’Hel Jacob was dissolved and on December 22, 1891 a charter was drawn for Chnessis Israel (transliteration changed in 1894 to Kenesseth Israel, Assembly of Israel). The congregation’s first acts were to hire a rabbi and to purchase a Torah School; then it began an intensive campaign to raise funds for a building. Funds were sought from some of the city’s leading citizens including Charles and J. C. Pillsbury who contributed $5.00 each. Once sufficient funds were raised, the congregation was able to hire an architect, F. A. Clarke, and a contractor, W. O. Clark, and commence construction of their synagogue.   Mayor William H. Eustis put the cornerstone in place and the synagogue was dedicated April 15, 1894. The frame building has little resemblance to synagogues left behind in the Pale; rather it appears to have had its various exterior elements borrowed from pattern books, including its tall round-arched windows, blind gallery, and small dome.  

By 1907, it was obvious the congregation was outgrowing its building and a decision was made to erect a new synagogue in a “more centrally located Jewish district”  (Golden Anniversary: Kenesseth Israel, p. 14). A lot was purchased at 518 Lyndale Avenue North, but not without protest from some members who were fearful to attend services because of the “dominance of Irish and Germans in that area”  (Unpublished manuscript, “Early Settlers”, no author or date). This may refer to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on 11th and Lyndale. One Jewish respondent who lived on 12th and Lyndale mentioned her discomfort in having to pass by the church to attend Blaine School and the synagogue. Construction began on the new building and it was dedicated in August 1913. Like its predecessor, the edifice bears little resemblance to synagogues left behind in the Old Country. Rather it is an example of the ongoing effort by the Jewish people in the 19th and 20th centuries to find a style of religious architecture that was not remindful of church architecture. The building’s tripartite façade consists of domed stair towers each reached by a high staircase flanking an arched central parapet consisting of a lower level central entry and a large arched window. The interior is a basilica plan with a central aisle, a balcony for women, and stained glass windows.  Funding to raise $30,000 for the synagogue’s focal point, the Ark of the Covenant that holds the sacred Torah Scrolls, was undertaken by the congregation’s Women’s Auxiliary.

The synagogue remained in use until 1948, long after most of its members had moved out of the Near North Side and were now residing in the more upscale Homewood neighborhood west of Penn Avenue between 8th Avenue North and Plymouth.  The congregation made the painful decision to sell its beautiful building and buy a modest church at 2309 Plymouth Avenue North, Homewood Presbyterian Church, where it remained until 1971 when a new building was erected in St. Louis Park. The Lyndale synagogue was sold to an African American Congregation, Zion Baptist Church.

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