Art and Faith Bridging the Jewish and Black Communities: Stories of a Historic North Minneapolis House of Worship
2001 Plymouth Avenue, N
Minneapolis, MN 55455
A photographic exhibit and symposium in celebration of a landmark building: 810 Elwood Avenue North, Minneapolis
The Twin Cities Houses of Worship Project (HOW) and its partners announce a two-day community-oriented opportunity to learn about and engage with the intertwining histories of the Jewish and Black communities in North Minneapolis. Learn about these marginalized communities through stories related to a landmark building that has served as the spiritual home of two congregations: the Jewish Tifereth B’Nai Jacob congregation that built the building and worshiped there until 1957, and the Holiness/Pentecostal First Church of God in Christ congregation that has worshiped in the building since purchasing it in 1957.
Schedule and Registration
All events are free and open to the public. Reservations are encouraged. This is a hybrid event; you can register to attend in person or via Zoom.
May 10 Schedule
4:00 - Photographic and Historical Exhibit formal opening
4:30 - Lecture by noted synagogue historian Dr. Samuel Gruber
"Between Two Worlds: The Synagogue Art of Eastern European Jews in Their New American Home," an illustrated talk
For Jews in Europe and America, the synagogue has been the most recognizable physical manifestation of community. Communities needed synagogues for worship and gathering. Whenever possible, even poor communities strove to make their buildings special - through architecture and often with decoration. For centuries, the Jewish concept of Hiddur Mitzvah—"the glorification of the commandment"—has led to the creation of beautiful religious objects, and wall paintings and stained glass windows, and these decorations often carry important symbolic and cultural meaning. This talk looks at the surviving synagogue buildings—now active churches—in Minneapolis' North Side and places their architecture and decoration within the Jewish tradition, but also as relevant for Jews and Christians today.
5:30 - 7:00 - Reception
Registration for May 10 Events
May 11 Schedule
9:00 - Symposium welcome and opening remarks
9:30 - Lecture by art historian Marilyn J. Chiat, Ph.D
"Jewish Immigrants on the Northside and Their African American Neighbors"
While the history of the northside’s Jewish community is well documented, what has often been ignored is its relationship with its African American neighbors. In this paper, I will provide a brief history of Minneapolis focusing in particular on the northside and the transformations it underwent from 1873, the date of its first settlement, until 1957 when Tifereth B’nai Jacob was sold to the First Church of God in Christ. In 1873, the near northside was the site of the city’s first planned garden community, but as industry and railroads began encroaching upon the area it was transformed into crowded housing for laborers. By 1900, new groups were arriving: immigrant Jews fleeing pogroms in the Pale of Settlement following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, and migrant southern African Americans fleeing violence and Jim Crow laws following the failure of Reconstruction in 1885. Minneapolis’s established communities did not welcome either group into their neighborhoods, forcing them to live on what was considered “the wrong side of the tracks,” the deteriorating northside. While I will focus primarily on the Jewish immigrant community and the congregation that erected Tifereth B’nai Jacob, I will also illustrate how, together, these two marginalized groups, living cheek to jowl for over a half of century, created one of the city’s most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, and found solace, comfort and peace in their houses of worship, including the one we are honoring at this Symposium, a building erected by Jewish immigrants who worshipped in it for thirty years and home to African American Holiness-Pentecostal Christians for nearly seventy-five years. An American story that needs to be heard.
10:30 - Break
10:45 - Lecture by Bishop Lemeul F. Thuston of the Church of God in Christ
"The Minnesota Traveling Saints & Their Hebrew Home"
The journey of American Jews and the story of African-American saints reflect many significant parallels. There is yet a historical Minnesota synagogue that became the spiritual home for the “mother church” for this flock of black Pentecostal Christians. Erected in 1926 for the Tifereth B'nai Jacob congregation, this immigrant synagogue became the First Church Of God In Christ 30 years later. The legacy of the center point of worship and community continues in the 21st century as an icon of two distinct marginalized ethnic-religious communities who found common ground (literally) in a North Minneapolis house of worship.
This presentation will identify the migration patterns of southern American Blacks to Minnesota and discuss the opportunities and struggles of an indigenous faith group of Minneapolis black Christians identified as “the saints.” It will also comment on how the rare mutual respect and strengthening of the Minnesota minority population continued because of the interwoven faith-fabric centered around this house of worship, and how the ecclesiastical structure of the Church Of God In Christ sustained the growth and stability of “the mother church.”
12:00 - Lunch. Box lunches will be provided
1:00 - Community roundtable on Jewish and Black life in North Minneapolis
3:00 - Tour of the First Church of God in Christ
Registration for May 11 Events
A Remarkable and Historic Building
The large brick building atop the hill at 810 Elwood Avenue, N. was erected as a synagogue in 1926 by the immigrant Tifereth B’nai Jacob congregation. Just six years after its dedication, the building suffered a fire, by unknown causes, that significantly damaged the interior sanctuary.
The small congregation repaired the damage and hired the Minneapolis decorating firm of (Gunnar) Dahlstrom and (Martin) Weinberger, noted for their work on theater interiors, to redecorate the sanctuary. Just who did the actual painting and artwork is unknown, but the result, which remains largely extant today, was a remarkable example of Central European synagogue painting, with trompe l’oeil details on the walls and a rare set of zodiac medallions on the face of the balcony. The original painted decorations from this period have been carefully retained and curated by Holiness/Pentecostal First Church of God in Christ congregation that purchased the building in 1957 and owns it to this day, making this building one of the few remaining painted immigrant synagogues of the period in the country.
Yet this important artwork is far from the whole story this landmark building tells. The social histories of the two congregations that owned the church over time illustrate the intertwining of Jews and Blacks in North Minneapolis in the 20th century. Both groups, residing in the neighborhood since the early 20th century, marginalized by the dominant white society, redlined to the North Minneapolis neighborhood, and disproportionately affected by urban renewal and highway projects, shared a number of parallel experiences that tell a crucial story about the history of Minneapolis. The Tifereth B’nai Jacob synagogue, home of Bessarabian Jews from the southern region of Romania who were looked down upon by their more northerly co-religionists, used the building to make a strong statement of their presence and wherewithal. Under their care, the building hosted politically progressive rallies and meetings that set them even further apart from much of the broader Minneapolis Jewish community. Similarly, the Holiness/Pentecostal identity of the new owners in the late 1950s set them apart for their Christian co-religionists suspicious of their worship practices, yet their New Year’s Eve gospel concerts brought in members from several neighboring Black churches. Now in its 65th year as the FCOGIC’s church home, the building stands as a testament to the congregation’s determination, strength, and spiritual commitment. It also is a reminder of the presence of the nationally prominent COGIC denomination, whose early representatives left their homes in Oklahoma and arrived in Minneapolis in 1923, exactly 100 years ago. Thus, this two-day event marks the 100th anniversary of the Church of God in Christ’s spiritual witness in Minnesota and the Twin Cities.
The building and its interior artwork thus form a bridge between the congregations and the communities they represent, two communities that were both marginalized in the city but that helped build a vibrant neighborhood despite many challenges. This landmark building stands as a witness to these communities, and the goal of this exhibit and symposium is to share this important history and presence with the broader Twin Cities community.
Samuel D. Gruber is an internationally recognized expert on Jewish art, architecture, and the historic preservation of Jewish sites and monuments. Dr. Gruber directs Gruber Heritage Global, a cultural resource consulting firm, and is president of the International Survey of Jewish Monuments. He is author of American Synagogues: A Century of Architecture and Jewish Community (2003) and Synagogues (1999) and scores of published reports, articles, and book chapters. Dr. Gruber is a Fellow of the American academy in Rome. He was founding director of the Jewish Heritage Program of World Monuments Fund, has consulted on cultural heritage projects for numerous organizations and institutions around the world. He blogs at Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art and Monuments.
Marilyn J. Chiat, Ph.D. is an art and architectural historian and co-director of the Twin Cities Houses of Worship Project. Her focus is on the role religious architecture plays in communities, providing insight into the history of congregants and the larger cultural context in which they exist. She is the author of North American Churches: From Chapels to Cathedrals (2004), The Spiritual Traveler: Chicago and Illinois, A Guide to Sacred Sites and Peaceful Places (2004), Handbook of Synagogue Architecture (1982, 2020). She has appeared in several public television documentaries, including Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis and the Emmy Award winning Iron Range: Minnesota Building America.
Bishop L. F. Thuston, bishop of the Kansas East Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, is a rare blend of academic preparation, pastoral passion, community connectivity, dedicated churchmanship, and spiritual vitality. After successful pastoral and teaching assignments in Missouri, Chicago, Indiana, Bronx, N.Y., Colorado Springs, Portugal, and Texas, he was appointed to The Historic Boone Tabernacle C.O.G.IC. in Kansas City, MO. Bishop Thuston has served his COGIC denomination as Dean of the National Youth Department and Dean of the International Adjutant Corp, Doctrinal Committee Chair for the Board of Bishops. He was elected as Vice Chairman of the General Assembly in 2011 and elected in 2016 as the Chairman of the General Assembly and recently re-elected in 2022. Thuston has also lectured at numerous academic and theological sites, including the Pontifical Institute at the Vatican, the International Wesleyan-Pentecostal Consortium, the African-American Holy Land Scholars Union, and the White House Presidential-Clergy Panel. He has authored four writings: Essential Ministry Tools, Tears of Jeremiah, From Aldersgate to Azusa, and his most recent work, Decently and In Order In the Sanctified Church, which is currently in distribution. He is a former professor at North Central University in Minneapolis.
- Twin Cities Houses of Worship Project
- First Church of God in Christ
- Program in Religious Studies (UMN)
- School of Architecture (UMN)
- Department of African American & African Studies (UMN)
- Center for Jewish Studies (UMN)
- Department of Art History (UMN)
- Heritage Studies & Public History Program (UMN)
- University of Minnesota's Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UMN)
- Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives (UMN)
- Institute for Advanced Study (UMN)
- The Center for Austrian Studies (UMN)
- The Northwest Architectural Archives (UMN)
- The University of Minnesota Libraries Archives and Special Collections (UMN)
Dr. Jeanne H. Kilde, Director of the Religious Studies Program, University of Minnesota, and co-director of the Twin Cities Houses of Worship Project. Author of When Church Became Theatre: The Transformation of Evangelical Architecture and Worship in Nineteenth-Century America (2002), Sacred Power, Sacred Space: An Introduction to Christian Architecture (2008), Editor of The Oxford Handbook of Religious Space (2022).
Dr. Marilyn Chiat, art and architectural historian and co-director of the Twin Cities Houses of Worship Project. (See bio above)
Pastor Tierre Webster, First Church of God in Christ. Executive Director, Damascus Way.
Bishop Fred Washington, Minnesota Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, Church of God in Christ.
Board Chairman John Lewis, First Church of God in Christ.
Dr. Yuichiro Onishi, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of African American & African Studies, University of Minnesota.
Ms. Vanessa Steele, Outreach and Campus Immersion Coordinator, Department of African American & African Studies, University of Minnesota.
Dr. Natan Paradise, Director, Center for Jewish Studies
Kate Dietrick, Archivist, Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives
Mr. Rolf Anderson, historic preservationist, Minneapolis
Cheryll Fong, Interim Curator, Northwest Architectural Archives
This activity is supported by an Imagine Fund Special Events Grant, an initiative of the University of Minnesota Executive Vice President and Provost, established through a generous gift from the McKnight Foundation, and facilitated by the Institute for Advanced Study