Minnesota's first Jewish congregation
The city of St. Paul had only been incorporated for two years when, in 1856, eight Jewish fur traders and clothing and liquor merchants founded Mount Zion Hebrew Congregation. The first services were held in a rented third-story room on Robert Street in downtown St. Paul. Mount Zion is a Reform congregation, and every Reform congregation in the Twin Cities and major Jewish organizations in St. Paul can all trace their existence to the leaders of Mount Zion.
Members of Mount Zion quickly became involved in all facets of building their new city, both through their business ties and in their service to others. In 1895, the women of Mount Zion founded Neighborhood House on the city's West Side, a settlement house that welcomed the large waves of Eastern European Jews then moving to Minnesota. In 1903, Mount Zion gave Neighborhood House to the city of St. Paul, and over the years, it has served waves of immigrants and refugees that have sought new homes in Minnesota. Today, Neighborhood House, located in the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center for Community Building, continues to involve members of Mount Zion in its programs, including providing emergency services and language classes and a host of other offerings to Minnesota's newest arrivals from Mexico, Laos, Somalia, and other countries.
In 1954, led by Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, the Mount Zion congregation made a conscious decision to stay in St. Paul, choosing a building site on Summit Avenue in the midst of several other landmark churches. The Temple board commissioned Bauhaus architect Erich Mendelsohn to design the temple. Today, 690 families gather regularly for religious services and to continue the congregation's service to its community.
"Throughout Mount Zion's 150 years, its members have sought to fulfill Micah's words for the congregation and indeed all of Minnesota, to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God."
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