Funds sought for Range's only synagogue Virginia building
Wednesday, March 21st, 2007 10:55:29 PM
ST. PAUL — The B'nai Abraham Synagogue built in 1909 in Virginia has seen the rise and fall of a strong Jewish community on the Range founded by Eastern European immigrants. Its status as the second oldest synagogue in Minnesota, and the only remaining one on the Range, makes the building a historical treasure for the Iron Range and Minnesota as well.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, would help fund the efforts of the Friends of B'nai Abraham to restore the building for the community and preserve part of Jewish heritage. “Jewish immigrants on the Range were really unique, they came from all different countries,” said Rukavina. “We can preserve it because it’s such a unique piece of history.”
Vice president of the organization, Ann Shanedling-Phillips of Golden Valley, Minn., who grew up in Virginia, testified about the project’s progress and future goals on Wednesday for the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee chaired by Rukavina.
The restoration has already secured a $15,000 matching grant from the Iron Range Resources Board for a new roof to stop deterioration. The non-profit is seeking to complete construction of a heating system, new floor, better accessibility and kitchen improvements, in addition to exterior maintenance.
Rukavina said that many Jewish Range citizens who have moved to the metro area “have stepped up to the plate” to make this happen. Countless other organizations such as the St. Louis County Historical Society and the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest support the project.
Testifier Michael Blehert of Crystal, Minn., called the restoration “a project of great potential with minimal investment.” The complete project is estimated to cost $350,000.
The bill’s fiscal note has yet to be determined, but Rukavina said in testimony that he would like to see $50,000 to $75,000 in matching funds to be allocated.
No longer a sacred space, the building could be used for community events in addition to housing a museum space presenting the Jewish community’s history.
Phillips said that the building would “attract tourists, economic development, people from all over the country and all over the world.”
The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the committee’s omnibus bill. Project managers hope to complete work in time for the building’s centennial in two years