Celebrate Mount Zion’s 160th Birthday

Minnesota became a state in 1858, and Mount Zion in St. Paul became a synagogue before that happened. Sunday, the oldest congregation in the Upper Midwest celebrates its 160th anniversary at the site of the congregation’s first building.

At noon on May 7, a special plaque will be dedicated where the first house of worship stood, on the corner of 10th and Minnesota Streets in downtown St. Paul. The dedication will include choirs, blowing the Shofar and remarks from Nancy Brady, president of Neighborhood House. The dedication will be accompanied by a mini street festival, 19th century games, period costume photo booth, food trucks and a fire station tour. Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken will be at Sunday’s ceremony, as well.

The festivities will begin at 10:30 a.m.

“There is something grounded about the St. Paul Jewish community,” said Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker. “There’s a real depth of welcoming and embracing of differences. These are the hallmarks that have kept our congregation strong.”

In the mid-1800s, eight families came up the Mississippi River from St. Louis in 1854. Two years later, Mount Zion was founded. Spilker noted that the first Jews who came north were part of “the pioneering spirit of St. Paul. Theirs and future generations engaged in all areas of civic life.”

Spilker said part of the Mount Zion’s history that speaks to the congregation’s character was at the turn of the 20th century, when the women of Mount Zion, along with its rabbi founded Neighborhood House. The organization served to help settle large waves of Eastern European Jews coming to the state. As the immigrants to the area have come from other countries, Neighborhood House has continued to welcome them and their mission has remained as it was a century ago.

“Funding came from more than just the Jewish community,” Spilker said. “The Sibley family and the archbishop supported it. It has stayed strong for all subsequent immigration waves, and Mount Zion is still involved.”

The plaque was donated by Jerry Klinger from the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation. Klinger has been working for the past 25 years to put a plaque in every state in America to show the beginning of Jewish life in that state. Spilker said they had discussed the wording on the plaque since the 150th anniversary celebration when they heard about Klinger’s initiative.

The plaque will go on the condo building that is now on the site. The plaque features a map from 100 years ago that shows what that corner looked like. Central High School had been one corner and two churches, Central Presbyterian and the Church of St. Louis/King of France. Both churches are still on that corner, and the Rev. David Colby of Central Presbyterian Church will speak at Sunday’s event as well.

“We have recognition from people that Mount Zion is an ongoing story of civil life,” Spilker said. “That we’re all immigrants and have to continue to welcome the stranger.”