3400 Dupont Ave S, Minneapolis
Architects: Liebenberg and Kaplan
Synagogue: 1927; school and administration wing added 1953
The Adath Jeshurun (Hebrew for “gathering of the righteous”) congregation was founded in 1884 by Russian and Romanian immigrants. It began as an Orthodox congregation, but later became Minneapolis’s first Conservative congregation (as distinguished from the other two major branches of Judaism, Orthodox and Reform). It also was the first Conservative congregation west of the Mississippi River . In 1906, its congregation was composed of 40 families, but by 1960, the congregation had grown to about 900 households.
The architects of the original synagogue building on the corner of 34th and Dupont and of the 1954 education/administrative wing to the south were Jacob “Jack” Liebenberg and Seeman Kaplan. The firm of Liebenberg and Kaplan also designed Temple Israel Synagogue at 2324 Emerson Ave. So. and Beth El Synagogue that once stood at 1349 Penn Avenue No. Liebenberg and Kaplan are best known for designing numerous movie theaters, including the Pantages downtown and Varsity in Dinkytown.
Stylistically, the 1927 synagogue is Neoclassical, which means it recalls the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. Its most notable Neoclassical features are the tall Corinthian columns framing the entrance doors (Note the addition of Jewish symbols in the column capitals) and the round-arched windows above the doors.
The Hebrew words at the top of the front façade, reading from right to left, are Torah (i.e., the Hebrew Bible), Avodah (prayer), and G’milut Chesed (good works). The English words immediately below are the beginning of one of Judaism’s most sacred prayers, the Sh’mah Yisroel, which is Hebrew for the first words of that prayer, “Hear, oh Israel!”
The Modernist school/administrative wing is marked by its simple rectilinear form and lack of ornamentation — in sharp contrast with the ornate Neoclassical synagogue building.
As early as 1959, the Adath Jeshurun congregation debated whether to stay in this building or to follow many of its congregants who had moved to western suburbs. Finally, in 1992, the congregation decided to move to Minnetonka, and they sold this building to the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis.
The arches above the front doors originally contained stained-glass windows depicting symbols of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Additional stained-glass windows that were in the synagogue’s side walls depict Jewish holidays. All of these windows were removed when the building was sold to the Unitarian Universalist Society. One of the arched windows is on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Some of the rectangular side windows were donated to the Minnesota Historical Society; others were retained by the congregation and are on display in the Minneapolis Talmud Torah and in Adath Jeshurun’s new synagogue in Minnetonka.