One of the major factors in Park’s remarkable growth after the War was the migration of the Jewish community of Minneapolis to the suburbs. The same advantages that other city dwellers sought in moving to the suburbs drew this close community westward. Much of the northernmost area of the Park was undeveloped, creating an opportunity for a large scale relocation. The Jewish community made an important and lasting impact on the city and had contributed a great deal to the development and image of St. Louis Park.
Much of the information for this section came from “Jewish Settlement in Minneapolis, 1860s-1972: Historic Context for Minneapolis Preservation Plan” by Garneth O. Peterson, AICP, Landscape Research: August 1997. Information about discrimination in Minneapolis in the 1940s is from the book An Echo in My Blood by internationally renowned author (and St. Louis Park native) Alan Weisman (Harcourt Brace & Company: 1999.) A book available from the Minnesota Historical Society Press is Jews in Minnesota by Hyman Berman and Linda Mack Schloff.
External Web Links:
- Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest
- www.FilminFocus.com, the film culture website of film company Focus Features (A Serious Man, Brokeback Mountain, Coraline), has an editorial titled “Jews in the USA” which looks at the smaller Jewish communities across America. The site includes a feature on the St Louis Park Jewish Community.
WHAT IS A JEW?
In his essay in the book They Chose Minnesota (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1981), Hyman Berman answers:
Jews are a people with common historical and cultural traits as well as a shared core of religious identity. Some commentators identify Jews as a nation and others have erroneously called them a race. We have chosen to regard them as an ethnic group. Given the diversity of national origins, the heterogeneity of religious affiliations, the Babel of languages, and the complexities of diverse historical experiences, the only safe definition must be an eclectic one which depends upon self-perception. A person or group of people who identify themselves as Jews, participate in institutions or activities – religious, cultural, philanthropic, political or social – that seek to perpetuate Jewish group identity will here be regarded as Jews.
Jewish settlers first came to Minnesota. Abram Elfelt, know to be Minnesota’s first Jewish settler, died in 1888.
The first synagogue in the state, the Mount Zion Hebrew Congregation, was established in 1856 in St. Paul.
German Jews came to Minneapolis and established shops, particularly selling clothing and dry goods.
Lodges of B’nai Brith (Sons of the Covenant) were established in St. Paul in 1871 and in Minneapolis in 1877.
The first congregation in Minneapolis, the Reform Shaarai Tov (“Gates of Goodness,” later Temple Israel) was formed.
Shaarai Tov’s synagogue, the first in Minneapolis, a frame Byzantine edifice designed by LeRoy Buffington, was built on Fifth Street between Marquette and Second Avenues. It is now located at 24th Street and Hennepin Avenue.
Approximately 600 Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe arrived in Minnesota, with fewer resources and English skills as their German counterparts. The new immigrants established mostly orthodox synagogues centered around their country of origin at first.
In Minneapolis 11 Orthodox synagogues were formed between 1884 and 1905.
A Romanian Orthodox congregation called “Rumanian Schul,” which became B’nai Abraham, was formed on the South Side of Minneapolis. About 300 Romanian immigrants met in a building on 15th Avenue South between Third and Fourth Streets.
From 1888 to 1928 Temple Israel was located at 10th Street and 5th Ave. So. in Minneapolis.
Chapters of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) were organized in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Minneapolis Hebrew Free School opened to perpetuate Jewish learning in modern, secular, urban America. It became an afternoon school with a rigorous curriculum of Jewish culture. It became Talmud Torah in 1911.
Approximately 5,000 Jews lived in Minneapolis.
Approximately 4,500 mostly Russian, Lithuanian, and Polish Jews had settled in North Minneapolis, and approximately 3,500 mostly Romanian Jews had settled on the South Side.
North Side Jews began to move further north to the Homewood district, across Olson Memorial Highway to Plymouth and Penn Avenues.
Minneapolis had 20 active Ku Klan chapters in the early ‘20s. In Minnesota the Klan directed its wrath mostly to Catholics and Jews.
The Oak Ridge Country Club was started in Hopkins, by and for Jewish golfers who had been excluded from other clubs. It is still going strong.
The Minnesota Jewish Council was established in the 1930s to monitor anti-Semite activities. The agency investigated cases of discrimination, lobbied for legislation that would counter its effects, and provide education to combat anti-Semitism.
In its blog, Hennepin County Library’s Special Collections talks about the Jewish community on Franklin Ave. in South Minneapolis. “From 1902-1950 the Agudas Achim (Association of Brothers) Synagogue was located at 1820 17th Avenue South. As you can see by the map above (courtesy of Jews in Minnesota, 2002), the Jewish community in south Minneapolis migrated west after 1935. The congregation shrank in size and the land was sold to the highway department for a Hiawatha Avenue expansion in 1950.” The synagogue was heavily supported by Kid Cann and his family.
The Jewish population on Minneapolis’s North Side had grown to about 11,000. Although there was a sizable Jewish community on the South Side, a 1936 survey indicated that about 70 percent of the city’s Jews lived on the North Side.
THE SILVER SHIRTS
In March 1936 a lunatic fringe group called the Silver Shirts descended on Minneapolis, preaching anti-Semitism and paranoia to what they claimed were 6,000 followers in the state. Eric Sevareid (using his real name, Arnold) was a journalist for the Minneapolis Journal and published a six-part expose of this group starting on September 11, 1936. The organization was led by William Dudley Pelley of Asheville, North Carolina, who chose to blame all of his problems on Communists or Jews, which he saw as one and the same. The Silver Shirts was open only to men, but women could join the associated Christian Party. Some of their most ridiculous ideas include:
- President Roosevelt’s real name was Rosenvelt, a Jew. He will declare martial law and prevent the upcoming national elections.
- The Pyramids of Giza predicted that the Jews would arise and seize the world on September 16, 1936. People were warned to hoard food, stay inside, and keep away from the windows. In Minneapolis the uprising would start in Kenwood and sweep eastward around the lakes.
- Jews started the World War and the Russian Revolution was started by a Jew named Bronstein. They have a king called Akha Dham.
- Maurice Rose, chauffeur to Minnesota Governor Floyd B. Olson, is really a Jewish international banker in disguise.
- Secretary of the Treasury Morganthau buys quarters from Russia for 5 cents and the Star of David is on the dollar bill.
- The NRA symbol hides the sign of the devil, and a font that looks like Russian letters.
And so on. In her book Easy Street, Susan Berman said that her father, Jewish gangster David Berman, did not take kindly to this attack on his people and he would go to the meetings in Suburban Minneapolis and beat up the leaders. She described an incident where her father and several of his employees busted up a meeting at “the Elks Lodge” (doesn’t say where), beating the participants with clubs and brass knuckles. This happened two more times, and after six months the Silver Shirts gave up for fear of the beatings. No charges were ever brought against Berman and his men.
The Silver Shirts reappeared in 1938, and the Journal decided to reprint Sevareid’s stories in a pamphlet. In an article dated August 5, 1938, The Minneapolis Spokesman described the group as a “national organization anti-Semitic and anti-Negro in principle,” and said that they were meeting at the Royal Arcanum Hall. It named local leaders as T.J. Wooster and Florence Scriver, and noted that national organizer Roy Zachory of Asheville, NC was in the Twin Cities.
One hoodwinked reader of the Minneapolis Star wrote to say that on July 29, 1938, he had been invited to a patriotic meeting at the Ark Lodge, a Masonic hall. He quickly discovered that the meeting was a hoax, and among those present was a member of the board of education, a leading industrialist (and labor-baiter), a number of doctors, small businessmen, and a number of women. He was ashamed of the Masons for being so hypocritical. The worst thing was that, as he left, photographs were taken of the participants, “so very likely I will now be branded a Silver Shirt and is my face red.” Signed, Ashamed.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint when the Jewish community of North Minneapolis began moving into St. Louis Park, it could have been as early as 1938, according to one report.
Evidence of anti-Semitism appeared in the form of a pamphlet issued by the “American Christian Movement,” PO Box 485, Minneapolis. The pamphlet was addressed to farmers in rural Minnesota, and began with a diatribe against the New Deal. The text reads “Are the Jews Really Being Persecuted?” and “No one seems eager to die for the Jews!” It then quoted a few pages from the Talmud, warning that it urged Jews to burn Christian churches, among other things.
Torah Academy was established in Minneapolis by a Orthodox Jews who were dissatisfied with Talmud Torah.
An article entitled “Minneapolis: The Curious Twin,” written by essayist Carey McWilliams, was published in Common Ground magazine (September 1946). McWilliams proclaimed “Minneapolis is the capitol of anti-Semitism in the United States. In almost every walk of life, ‘an iron curtain’ separates Jews from non-Jews in Minneapolis.” Although only 4 percent of the population, Jews were publicly and unapologetically excluded from membership in private country clubs, but also Rotary, Lions, and Kiwanis Clubs, and groups like the Toastmasters. Jews were even barred from the Minneapolis chapter of the American Automobile Club.
Discrimination had turned away Jewish professionals, and in 1948 frustrated Jewish doctors started their own hospital, Mt. Sinai, after being denied access to Minneapolis medical facilities. Mt. Sinai was located at Chicago Ave. and 22nd Street in Minneapolis. (See 1990 below.) Jews were barred from local chapters of labor unions that had been started in New York by Jewish organizers. Summer resorts on Lake Minnetonka advertised that they catered to “Gentiles only.” Department stores such as Montgomery Ward refused to interview Jewish job applicants. Many neighborhoods were “restricted,” barring Jews, blacks, and even Catholics and Italians. Jewish teachers were few and far between. The discrimination was much more pronounced in Minneapolis than in St. Paul, according to McWilliams.
The situation was exacerbated by Reverend William Bell Riley at the First Baptist Church in Minneapolis, whose sermons were anti-Semitic diatribes. Along with Rev. Luke Rader, Bell was identified as a “rabble rouser” in McWilliams’s article. An article on the internet by Doug Linder in 2004 says “In early 1930s, he (Riley) preached a virulent form of anti-Semitism and became a fascist sympathizer. World War II finally softened his anti-Semitism.” And in the book Jews in Minnesota by Hyman Berman and Linda Mack Schloff, it states “Expressions of anti-Semitism in the 20th century spewed from the pulpits of such popular Minneapolis evangelists as William Bell Riley and Luke Rader.” Rader was the minister of the River-Lake Gospel Tabernacle.
As a response to the charges of anti-Semitism, Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey appointed a task force to investigate the situation. The task force confirmed the allegations, and also shone light on discrimination against Blacks and American Indians. Humphrey turned the task force into a permanent Mayor’s Council on Human Relations. Ordinances were passed in the next two years that outlawed anti Semitic and racist practices in housing and employment.
The resultant migration from Minneapolis was almost complete, with fewer than ten families still attending the Romanian Congregation in South Minneapolis.
Race-specific real estate covenants were invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1948 Humphrey gave a groundbreaking speech on civil rights at the Democratic National Convention.
As usual, the High School Prom of the St. Louis Park Class of 1949 was to be held at the Automobile Club in Bloomington. A manager there found out that a Jewish student planned to attend, and banned him. St. Louis Park School Superintendent Harold Enestvedt personally told the Club that if all of his students were not welcome, the Prom would be held somewhere else. The Club reversed itself and everyone went to Prom as scheduled.
Issues of the St. Louis Park High School Echo newspaper indicate that the school was overwhelmingly Christian. The Glee Club sang at churches, the Brush and Palette club decorated school windows to look like stained glass at Christmas, holidays were for Christmas and Easter, and there were very overt Biblical references to articles. It is possible that the reason for this is that the Jewish families were younger and their children were still in the elementary schools. However, the terms Winter and Spring vacations would not come to be used until 1970.
A synagogue committee of the Park B’nai B’rith chapter convened a meeting of Jewish families at Lenox School. Discussions went on with Jewish congregations in Minneapolis until an “amalgamation with B’nai Abraham evolved.”
The St. Louis Park chapter of B’nai B’rith Women received its charter on December 13, 1953. There were 93 charter members – membership in 1961 was 130. A 1961 Dispatch article states that “This philanthropic organization supports hospitals throughout the country, the Hillel houses on a number of campuses, and the Anti-Defamation League and the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization.”
The Anti-Defamation League, a branch of B’nai B’rith, presented a booklet to the Superintendent of Schools that included a schedule of the Jewish holidays and suggestions for teachers.
In May 1956 B’nai Abraham moved to a three-bedroom house at 3115 S. Ottawa Ave. on land purchased by Lewis Schwartz. The original 27 members grew to 294 families by the fall.
Although the Echo (and the High School in general) was overwhelmingly Christian, there was an editorial about Hanukah in the December 1957 issue.
The B’nai Abraham Synagogue Center at Highway 7 and Ottawa Avenue (3115 Ottawa) was built – the first in the Park. Moses B. Sachs was the rabbi in 1959. By 1961, 400 families were members.
Arthur E. Naftalin served as Minneapolis’s first Jewish mayor from 1961 to 1969.
Construction began on the Talmud Torah and Emanuel Cohen Center – later known as the Sabes Jewish Community Center. It represented a merger of the Emmanuel Cohen Center and Council Camp. Its aim, voiced by the Park Jewish Youth Services in July 1959, was “to provide a community-wide program to meet the social, cultural, and recreational needs of every segment of the community.”
In the ’60s, rival athletic teams would toss bagels at St. Louis Park players.
Gemelus Chesed, a North Side congregation, moved to the Park.
Phil Blazer presented the B’nai Shalom Hour on Sundays from 11 to noon on KUXL. The show featured “Jewish Music Favorites, Israeli Folk Music, News of Jewish Community Interest, Yiddish Comedy, and Interviews.” An ad for the show was in the February 5, 1965 issue of the newspaper American Jewish World.
In an article dated November 22, 1967 in the Dispatch, City Manager Camille Andre estimated that (with no exact figures available) “the city’s population included about 30 percent Catholics, 25 percent Jews and the remainder Protestants.”
Beth El, a North Side congregation with 900 families, moved to 5224 W. 26th St. in St. Louis Park. A youth center had been built at that location in 1960 to serve members of the congregation who had already relocated.
A memo dated August 30, 1968, from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota provided Superintendents of Minnesota school and the President of the U of M with a calendar of Jewish holidays from 1968 through 1973. “We are hopeful that having a schedule of these holidays so far in advance will avoid scheduling conventions, examinations, etc., on days when Jewish youngsters and adults observe their Holy Days.”
The April 30, 1969, issue of the Park High Echo included a two-page spread with the headline “Today’s Youth Envision Religion Through Confused, Questioning Eyes.” Of the articles, the most provocative was by Larry Hammermesh, who surveyed 300 students regarding Jewish student self-segregation. He concluded that a higher percentage of Jewish students were more likely to make Jewish friends than non-Jewish students. His second conclusion was that the the cause of this exclusiveness was that “Jews at Park are uncomfortable in a society that is largely Christian” and that things like Christmas carols in school caused alienation among Jewish students. He also noted that many more Jewish students felt discriminated against by teachers than Christian students.
John Milos, Greek owner of the New Dutch Grill (8005 Minnetonka Blvd.), closed his business on October 10, 1969, claiming bad business was due to people thinking it was a Jewish restaurant.
On January 6, 1970, over 125 students, mostly from Park High, discussed the question “Is there anti-Semitism in St. Louis Park?” Psychology teacher George Olson was the main speaker of the program. A report in the Current, an alternative student newspaper, reported on the event in detail. The paper quoted Olson as saying:
I have noticed that the students who are anti-Semitic usually have a D or a D minus average, are absent quite a bit from class, have a bad attitude, and openly display hostility. The worse off that they are, the more violently anti-Semitic they become. There is much resentment and jealousy among the Gentiles about the Jewish students’ scholastic standards. What they don’t understand though, is that the Jewish heritage has always stressed learning and study and it is a part of the Jewish student to be this way. This is possibly why you won’t find many Jewish students out for sports in Park.
Olson cited Jewish parents disapproving of their children dating non-Jews as a reason for resentment, and tackled the subject of cliques:
Sure, Jews naturally stick together. When they came from Europe they were thrown together in neighborhoods in America that were like their European ghettos. When a Jewish child is born he is sent to a Jewish Sunday School, he graduates and is sent to Hebrew school and joins a Jewish youth group. Naturally most of his friends by the time he gets to high school are Jewish. It’s not that they don’t like Gentiles and purposely exclude the, it’s just natural for kids to stick together with the friends they grew up with.
Sam Scheiner, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota, addressed a remark that Jews were prejudiced against Gentiles. He said that:
in working with Jewish youth, he has found a few who don’t like particular Gentiles, but he didn’t think that there was one Jewish student in the audience who hated Gentiles as a whole, but there are many Gentiles who are anti-Semite to the whole sect. Sam earlier brought up a case where a student complained that some members of the Park hockey team pass anti-Semitic remarks and taunt Jewish students in the lunch room. He called the head hockey coach and asked him to look into the complaint, an also offered to speak with the team about the situation. So far, no return call.
On January 12, 1970, Mrs. Paula Beugen, police records clerk, gave a training session on “What City Employees Should Know about the Jewish People.” She explained various situations which a city employee might be confronted with in dealing with Jewish people in an official capacity, the reasons of culture and religion which might create those situations, and how to deal with them.
On January 14, 1970, the school board voted to change “Christmas Vacation” to “Winter Vacation” and “Easter Vacation” to “Spring Vacation.” The change came about because of a request from the Social Action Committee of Westwood Lutheran Church. See Race, Creed, and Color for more actions taken to secularize the schools.
Kenesseth Israel, organized in 1888, moved to a new building at 4330 W. 28th.
B’nai Abraham, Mikro Kodesh, and Tifereth B’nai Jacob merged to form B’nai Emet.
B’nai Emet’s new building at 3115 Ottawa Ave. was finished in April 1974.
Rudolph E. Boschwitz became Minnesota’s first Jewish U.S. Senator in 1978.
In February 1979 the Echo reported that Nazi propaganda was being distributed at local high schools, including Edina East, Hopkins, and Southwest. Apparently not at Park. However, someone did paint swastikas on the murals in the Park High lunch room.
The May 7, 1980, issue of the St. Louis Park Echo reported that many Russian students and their families came to St. Louis Park through the help of Jewish Family’s Childrens Service. Sophomore Alla Tsudek, from Odessa, said it took her family five and a half months to get out of the U.S.S.R. The students interviewed described some problems assimilating into the American culture.
Bloomington Jefferson videotaped their basketball game with Park on December 16, 1980, complete with derogatory commentary about Jews, coaches, cheerleaders, fans, and players. Park coach Augie Schmidt showed the tape to players, but it was unclear whether the comments were broadcast over cable TV.
An article in the April 13, 1984, Echo indicated that despite the large Jewish population at the school there were many misconceptions about the meaning of Passover, just as there were about Easter.
38 percent of the Jews residing in the Minneapolis area lived in the Park.
Mt. Sinai Hospital, which was opened in 1948 specifically for Jewish patients and doctors, merged with Metropolitan Medical Center but closed the next year. Over the years many of the Jewish doctors moved to Methodist Hospital.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian Jews migrated to the U.S. In the Park, a Russian community grew in the Aquila area, where there was a Russian grocery store, Russian doctor, etc. It is estimated that 30,000 Russians came to Minnesota.
A forum called “Anti-Semitism: Still Here and Very Real,” was held as part of the B’nai B’rith’s Ira W. Weil Lodge’s 50th Anniversary celebration in June 1992. Moderated by WCCO anchor Don Shelby, the panel featured:
- Kent B. Schiner, International President of B’nai B’rith
- Max Kleinman, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Federation for Jewish Services
- Michael Zarin, legislative assistant for foreign affairs and defense in the office of Senator Dave Durenberger
Issues discussed included:
- Ads in college newspapers that claimed that the Holocaust never happened;
- Black colleges scheduling anti-Semitic speakers;
- Anti-Semitic messages of David Duke and Pat Buchanan;
- Positions of Presidential candidates such as Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.
At a hockey game between Cooper and St. Louis Park on January 9, 1993, the opposing team threw bagels across the ice. Brenda Berrie at the Jewish Community Relations Council/Anti-Defamation League said that Cooper teachers would attend six hours of training for “A World of Difference,” a program sponsored by JCRC that deals with anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of predjudice.
In February of 1993 an organization called the United Patriot Front appeared out of South St. Paul with hate fliers:
- One flier had the statement “Support the PLO” beneath a sketch of a person holding a grenade on a tank.
- One had an illustration of a microwave oven, with slogans “Jew Dwarfs! There is an oven in YOUR future! Communism is Jewish! White America Unite!! Our Race is our Nation.”
The fliers were placed on apartment doors at 4501 Park Glen on February 9, 1993. They were also left on cars at the Menorah Plaza Apartments parking lots the same day.
A famous piece in the StarTribune of December 5, 1999, was “St. Louis Park, Forest Fire of Genius,” by former Vice President and Minnesota Senator Walter F. Mondale. It was about the “Jewish Mafia,” as characterized by Al Franken: “the elite cadre of great thinkers and artists who went to Hebrew school in St. Louis Park during the 1960s.” Mondale was interested in figuring out the “mysterious ability of St. Louis Park to churn out original thinkers.” He wrote to five of them, and received letters that attempted to explain how so much talent came out of the Park. They were:
- Al Franken suggested that the creosote in the water could lead to two things: increased intellectual creativity and/or prostate problems.
- Norm Ornstein attributed their success to the ideas an passion of Minnesota politicians such as Mondale, Humphrey, Fraser, and Freeman. “That, and the creosote.”
- Joel and Ethan Coen skirted the issue, finally saying “Maybe George Rice or Al Austin (WCCO personalities) could have explained it – or, if not them, Roundhouse Rodney. But they are gone.”
Darchei Noam, an Orthodox Jewish congregation that first formed in 2005, broke ground for a new synagogue at 2950 Joppa Ave. So. at Minnetonka Blvd. on June 24, 2012. The congregation had been meeting at St. George’s Episcopal Church.