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Temple Israel begins expansion at 24th & Emerson

Updated: September 10, 2015 - 11:05 am

Minneapolis’ first Jewish congregation is still firmly planted in the city — construction at Temple Israel is underway to expand its education facilities at 24th & Emerson.

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman said Temple Israel staff contemplated leaving Uptown at different periods of time.

“Thank God we didn’t,” she said. “Our address is our mission and vision, not just our geography.”

Temple Israel was the first Jewish congregation in Minneapolis, founded in 1878. Zimmerman said the building on Emerson was constructed in 1928, at a time when anti-Semitism was prevalent in the city.

“To mark our presence as a Jewish institution was very courageous,” she said.

Temple Israel is now replacing its 1955 addition with a new two-story education building along 24th Street attached to a new one-story preschool space along Fremont. Zimmerman said the new facility will consolidate the early childhood program on a single floor, achieve better compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and provide modern classroom space.

The education building is named for Rabbi Max Shapiro, who worked at Temple Israel from 1955-1985 and spoke out on issues of desegregation, civil rights, Vietnam and anti-Semitism. He represented Minnesota at the funeral of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Temple Israel’s expanded lobby will feature 12 windows representing the 12 tribes of Israel. A suspended ceiling in the lobby is designed to evoke the ornate ceiling inside the sanctuary.

“The beauty of the place — it surrounds you, it’s so powerful,” Zimmerman said.

In 2001 Zimmerman became the nation’s first female senior rabbi to lead a large Jewish congregation, which now numbers at more than 2,200 families and draws members from across the metro.

Temple Israel has long worked to cultivate a close connection with the community. The synagogue has partnered in advocacy to end homelessness. It helped create the former Neighborhood Involvement Program that provided health care for uninsured patients. Paul and Sheila Wellstone’s private funeral ceremony took place at Temple Israel. The synagogue was an early adopter of composting in Minneapolis. And Zimmerman attended a recent conference on 21st century policing in Washington, D.C.

“The city’s health is our health,” she said.