Mount Zion Hebrew Congregation

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Winning Nomination

The first Jews who came to Minnesota in 1856, founding Mount Zion Hebrew Congregation, were part of the pioneering fabric of St. Paul. Theirs and future generations engaged in all areas of civic life. The women of Mount Zion, along with its Rabbi at the turn of the 20th century, founded Neighborhood House to help settle large waves of Eastern European Jews coming to the state. Over a century later, Neighborhood House is still serving immigrant groups entering Minnesota, now from Mexica, Laos, and Somalia among many other lands.

Mount Zion's building, dedicated in 1954 on Summit Avenue, was designed by Erich Mendelsohn, a world-renowned architect. Visitors come to the city every year to study the building. The visionary who helped pick Mendelsohn was Rabbi Gunther Plaut, who served the congregation for over ten years. During his time here, he wrote a history of Jews in Minnesota, a history of Mount Zion, and a commentary on the Torah [Five Books of Moses] that is used in over a thousand congregations around the world. He also served on many governors' commissions, helped to found the St. Paul Art Museum, and served as President of the St. Paul Athletic Association. 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.
~Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker, St. Paul, MN

Runner-up Nominations

Mount Zion Hebrew Congregation, St. Paul, MN was founded in 1856 and received its territorial charter in 1857. It was the first Jewish congregation in the State. While it started as an Orthodox congregation, by 1872, it was in the vanguard of Reform Judaism. It has contributed to Minnesota diversity for 150 years.
~Steve A. Brand, Saint Paul, MN



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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