History of Tzedek at Mount Zion
Since its founding in 1856 Mount Zion Hebrew congregation was involved in social justice in the Saint Paul community.
The Painted Woods Colony is established on the Missouri River in North Dakota for the immigrants to homestead. Rabbi Wechsler and Mrs. Julius Austrian lobby the Mayor’s office and the Chamber of Commerce to raise funds for the immigrants’ care. At the beginning of the large-scale immigration from Russia and Eastern Europe, the Jews in Saint Paul get help from the national Jewish community and even more help from city and state. The women in the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society cook meals and do all they can for the hungry refugees, and Mount Zion members contribute heavily but ultimately the project fails, and when it does, Rabbi Wechsler resigns.
Rabbi Hess and the ladies of the Mount Zion Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society contributed $100 to the opening of an “Industrial School” to teach immigrants to be Americans (i.e. to learn skills of home and industry and study English). Winter classes
soon followed in 1897.
Mount Zion founded Neighborhood House as a settlement house on the West Side, where the immigrants from Eastern Europe lived. It became the central institution of life on the West Side of Saint Paul.
Mount Zion deeded it to the City of Saint Paul in a reorganized, wider and non-sectarian form, but Mount Zion rabbis and members still serve on the Board of Directors. Rabbi Rypins taught English classes at night. Neighborhood House, now at 179 Robie Street.
Freedom of the pulpit issues arise when rabbi delivers a sermon defending Germany while most of the congregants support President Wilson. Rabbi Rypins leaves the congregation “with no bitterness.” Freedom of pulpit issues remain for several years.
Assistant Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein (1963-66) participates in and is arrested in Civil Rights March
Relationship with African-American community is established with Black-Jewish Dialogue, Black-Jewish Investment Group, MLK celebration at Temple with Metropolitan Male Chorus.
Southeast Asian immigrant family is sponsored by Temple.
First congregational Break-the-Fast.
Special Sabbath service greeting new Russian immigrants.
Three more Southeast Asian families sponsored
Social action includes help in homeless women’s shelter and food drives for two foodshelves.
Debate on providing sanctuary for Central American refugees.
Black-Jewish cooperative effort: Sign in favor of freeing Soviet Jewry and “Saying No to Apartheid.”
Hand of Friendship is begun at services.
Mexican Outreach to Marrano Jews in Xalapa, Mexico.
Mount Zion Temple Sisterhood Mitzvah Food Shelf project started with a lone collection food cart in the lobby in November 1987. Prior to this, food collection was done in the religious school.
Recycling begins at Temple.
New Americans Committee is established.
Mount Zion invites Saint Paul churches to join in interfaith Thanksgiving worship. Service becomes an annual event with 1000 in attendance by 2003.
Year-long theme: “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof: Justice, Justice you shall pursue.”
2002 – 2003
Torah in Action (Mitzvah Day), serves meals at the Ramsey County Family Service Center, builds affordable housing with Interfaith Builders/Habitat for Humanity; participates in Sukkot
Project Nechama (Jewish Response to Disaster),Tamhui, Emergency Overflow Shelter, Seychel.
Mount Zion is recognized by Saint Paul Area Council of Churches for its dedication and commitment to Project Home (homeless shelter project).
Mount Zion receives Irving J. Fain Social Action Award from the commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism for our Sukkot Project/Homeless Shelter and Year of Tzedek programming.
Mount Zion members assisted by partner Jewish Community Action hosted 18 house parties. 250 members of Mount Zion temple met in each others homes to discuss what social justice issue keeps them up at night. Each house party created a consensus statement about which social justice issue Mount Zion Temple should focus. All the participants gathered on Sunday, April 15, 2005 at the Tzedek Summit where the congregation voted to focus its social justice work on problems facing children in the community, forming a working group called Mount Zion Temple/Jewish Community Action Children’s Initiative.
The Children’s Initiative has brought speakers to Mount Zion to inform us about the needs of Children including; Jim Koppel from the Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota, Karen Kingsley from Ready 4 K, Vic Rosenthal from Jewish Community Action, State Representative Frank Hornstein, and State Senator Dick Cohen.
2007 – 2008
Mount Zion Temple has been awarded the prestigious Irving J. Fain Award for 2009 from the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. Mount Zion Temple is being recognized for its partnership with Jewish Community Action and the Children’s Defense Fund’s Bridge to Benefits web site.
As part of our Children’s Initiative, Mount Zion members have reached out to trusted individuals and organizations in our community to educate them about this great website which determines potential eligibility for publicly funded programs. Connecting trusted individuals in our community to this website helps stabilize families with assistance with health care, energy assistance, food support, and childcare assistance. The Children’s Initiative held two different workshops to educate our members about the website and to gather ideas of more organizations who work with the working poor that we might contact.
55 members of Mount Zion Temple connected over 200 organization to the Bridge to Benefits web site increasing the number of individuals using this screening tool to over 16,000 in its first year of using the website pioneered by CDF-MN.
Mount Zion members hosted four State Senators at four different homes in their districts to tell them about the Children’s Initiative and ask them how we can increase access to healthcare for all children in our state. Fifty Mount Zion members had conversations with Senator Carlson, Apple Valley; Senator Ellen Anderson, Saint Paul; Senator John Marty, Roseville; and Senator Richard Cohen, Saint Paul.
Mount Zion Temple’s Board of Directors approved a resolution in support of comprehensive affordable health care in Minnesota Resolution on Comprehensive Affordable Health Care in Minnesota. This historic action acknowledges the crisis that faces Minnesota’s uninsured, encouraging congregant efforts to solve the problem and authorizes the Board to formally support health care reform efforts.
MZT/JCA Children’s Initiative joined the SAVE GAMC coalition in the fall to protect a publically funded health care program designed to protect health care access for the vulnerable general assistance community of single adults which were un-allotted by Governor Pawlenty. This un-allotment put the state funded MinnesotaCare program at risk. MinnesotaCare is a safety net insurance program for low income families. The Governor wanted to roll the GAMC program into this program putting MinnesotaCare at risk of bankruptcy.
The MZT/JCA Children’s initiative held another program to educate and activate our congregation to save this much needed publically funded program. Maureen O’Connell from Minnesota Legal Services Coalition and Robert Fisher from St. Stephen’s Human Rights were featured at the program. The 40 people who attended the program called the Governor and wrote postcards to their lawmakers telling them to SAVE GAMC.
30 people from Mount Zion Congregation joined with over a thousand Minnesotans at the Minnesota State Capital for an opening day rally to SAVE GAMC.
Mount Zion members joined Jewish Community Action’s day on the hill to talk to their law makers to push to save GAMC. Drs. Stiffman and Adams wrote a letter to the editor with other health professional from Mount Zion that was published in the Star Tribune.
After publication, more than 80 other health professional signed the letter which was delivered to every legislator in both the state House and Senate.
Rabbi Spilker and three other members of Mount Zion attended the community vigil to override the Governor’s veto. Unfortunately, community pressure failed and the veto stood.
All this pressure caused the Governor to negotiate to save General Assistance Medical Care. While the bill has its faults it is better than no program at all.
Mount Zion Temple hosts a gubernatorial debate sponsored by the twin cities Jewish community. All three candidates were present and more than 800 people attended the event. The debate was rebroadcast of Minnesota Public Radio the following day.
Mount Zion receives Irving J. Fain Social Action Award from the commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism for our A Year of Tzedek – Having the Conversation, a year-long program dedicated to bringing justice to the forefront of congregational life and driving action at the individual, congregational, and community levels. Learn more here.