In the early 1950s, there were two after-school Hebrew programs in St. Paul that had the banner “Talmud Torah” over the door. Although it wasn’t until 1956 – after a protracted series of meetings and negotiations – that Talmud Torah of St. Paul opened. This weekend, the organization is celebrating its 60th anniversary.
“There was Jewish education before, there just wasn’t a central system,” said Heidi Tarshish, the education director at Talmud Torah, which began as an afternoon school and added the St. Paul Jewish Day School in 1982 and a middle school in 1998. It also houses the Hineni adult Jewish education program, which was added in 2014. “It began as a collaboration between (a predecessor to the) St. Paul Jewish Federation and the synagogues. They had a vision of a community-sponsored collaborative.”
Tarshish said the Dec. 10 event is one of many that the school is doing to celebrate. The event that spurred this weekend’s event was photo identification projects over the summer. The school’s old photos were sent to the University of Minnesota archives for safekeeping. So many people had come to events that were scheduled to identify the people in the photos that it offered the opportunity for more celebrations.
“So many people have come through and graduated from Talmud Torah, we thought it would be fun to celebrate them,” Tarshish said. “We’ve invited all the clergy, past presidents, old teachers leading sessions. It’s a chance to learn from others, schmooze. It will be very casual.”
Saturday’s event starts at 7 p.m. and takes place at the Hofman Educational Building, 768 Hamline Ave. S. in St. Paul. Former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer will be on hand to make some remarks.
Getting Talmud Torah of St. Paul up and running was anything but a given.
“Talmud Torah of St. Paul, unlike its Minneapolis counterpart, came to be after a long, drawn-out series of mergers and a negotiated collaboration. By the time it got to this point, the community was pleased it got this far.” said Hamline religion professor Earl Schwartz, who is writing the book “The Arc of the Covenant.” The book, which Schwartz is hoping will be out in 2017, is about this process towards the “establishment of a central community agency, remarkable success, and more recent struggles with changing demographics and culture.”
Schwartz believes that naming the school the same as the afterschool program in Minneapolis, which is now in its 126th year was emulation to a degree.
“By the 50s Talmud Torah (in Minneapolis) had become a nationally known communal agency, but the lowercase term ‘talmud torah’ was a common colloquialism,” he said. “Talmud Torah of St. Paul was the first successful attempt at a single communal agency for educational purposes,” Schwartz said. “The establishment of Talmud Torah in 1956 was a milestone.”