The desire for a Conservative synagogue on Minneapolis’ Northside originated in 1920 when a group of young people began to meet on Friday nights in the Talmud Torah (the local community supplementary religious school) to hold modern, meaningful services. They soon formed the Young People’s Synagogue and A.M. Heller of the Talmud Torah served as Rabbi. As the group expanded, it became difficult to continue meeting at the Talmud Torah. In the early 1920′s, it was agreed that a synagogue would be built and that the congregational name would be Beth El. In November 1922, a house and lot were purchased on 14th and Penn Avenue North.
At first, daily services were held in the little house on the corner of the lot. By June 1925, ground was broken and in September the cornerstone containing the names of the 25 original members was laid.
The new building was formally dedicated on March 14 – 21, 1926, and filled with activity. Women’s League was established in 1924 – 1925, as was the Religious School. The Young People’s League was organized in 1926 and was extremely active. Talmud Torah classes were held in the building, as were Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, an annual inter-faith Thanksgiving service with neighborhood churches and Tomchei Torah, a Yiddish-speaking group which presented a Yiddish play each year. The first confirmation class graduated in 1926. In 1930, Men’s Club was organized and our Shofar (monthly bulletin) began publication. Beth El preschool, now the Shirley R. Abelson Aleph Preschool, began in 1939.
From cultural activities to religious education to Bonei Brith (young married couples), the building was filled with constant activity and the excitement of an ever-growing Beth El family. More room was soon needed. On March 14, 1948, the Bet Hamidrash and Community House (built at a cost of $235,000) were formally dedicated.
From the original 100, the congregation grew to 450 families and moved in innovative directions. Mr. and Mrs. Club was formed in 1948. The same year, under the guidance of Lee Gordon, Shirley Abelson, and Rabbis Aronson and Abelson, United Synagogue Youth (USY) was born at Beth El. It is now international in scope.
Beth El Memorial Park was purchased and constructed in the early 1950′s. In 1956, the first baby-naming occurred during regular synagogue services. These two achievements furthered Beth El’s commitment to provide for its members throughout the complete life cycle.
As the congregation moved in large numbers from the Northside, the Board approved the purchase of land in St. Louis Park. Ground was broken for the Youth and Activities Building on September 17, 1961.
A congregation, numbering 894 families, dedicated its building two years later. Activities continued at both buildings…youth and educational activities at the new building, all others at the Penn Avenue location. A complete move became inevitable. The final service at 1349 Penn North was held on June 7, 1968 and the building was sold to the city of Minneapolis on June 10. In the fall of 1968, groundbreaking occurred in St. Louis Park.
With the old building sold and the new building incomplete, High Holiday services were held in Convention Hall, with 2300 members worshipping together at one service. On May 15 – 17, 1968, our new synagogue was dedicated. It was a joyous weekend with links to the past including a procession with the Torah scrolls and the honoring of Rabbi Aronson for his 50th year in the Rabbinate. Active congregational life continued. Home study groups, religious school, youth programs, Synagogue Skills Program (now TaRBuT, a component of the Ben and Bernice Fiterman Bar/Bat Mitzvah Training Program), theater groups and other programs flourished.
The celebrations continued! In 1984, Beth El celebrated its St. Louis Park Bat Mitzvah. The 10th, 25th, 40th and Jubilee anniversaries of the congregation were highlighted with special programs and dinners. In 1998 the synagogue’s 75th anniversary festivities were kicked off by a stimulating evening with Alan Dershowitz, followed by a full and varied schedule of celebrations culminating with a Dinner Dance.
Beth El continues to grow creatively and programmatically as it strives to fulfill the needs of its congregants (now numbering nearly 1250 families) and encourage a richer, more engaged and connected Jewish lifestyles. “We shall go forward with our young and with our old.”
1920 – Young People’s Synagogue formed
1924 – Rabbi Aronson arrives · Religious school established
1925 – Cornerstone laid at Penn & 14th · Women’s League established
1926 – New building dedicated · First Confirmation class
1930 – Men’s Club established · Shofar begins publication
1939 – Aleph School established
1948 – First bat mitzvah celebrated · Beth El founds USY · Rabbi Abelson arrives
1950 – Beth El Memorial Park founded
1951 – Rabbi Abelson leaves to serve as USAF chaplain
1957 – Rabbi Abelson returns
1959 – BEMA (Beth El Music & Arts) established
1968 – New synagogue groundbreaking · Women begin reading from the Torah
1970 – New synagogue opens
1973 – Beth El begins counting women as members of a minyan
1975 – First adult bat mitzvah
1979 – Yom Shalaim Daycare program begins
1980 – Cantor Newman joins Beth El
1982 – Members participate in Siyum HaTorah (writing a Torah)
1982 – Rabbi Herring becomes Beth El’s third senior rabbi
1998 – National Speaker Series launched · Rabbi Kahn becomes senior rabbi
2006 – Congregational Nurse program begins
2007 – Cantor Abrams becomes senior cantor
2008 – Rabbi Davis becomes senior rabbi · Rabbi Olitzky joins the clergy team
2009 – Young Adults and Young Families programs begin
2010 – Major Building Renovation groundbreaking · Inspiring Minds Speaker Series launched
2011 – First National Guard Unit adopted
2013 – New Learning Center dedication · Heroes Among Us Speaker Series launched · Beth El Rishon USY wins International Chapter of the Year
2013 – International USY chapter of the year
2013 – Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Award for our participation in the Twin Cities Public Television series: Battlefield to the Home Front. One of the Minnesota National Guard units that Beth El adopted while deployed in Afghanistan was featured in this series.
2014 – St Louis Park recognized us for our speaker series
2015 – First same sex marriage at Beth El celebrated
2016 – The Friendship Garden, a joint effort of The Aleph Preschool and Benilde St. Margaret’s School donated over 225 pounds of produce to STEP and has been featured as the Garden of the Week by the Minnesota Food Share Program twice.