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“I’m thinking, what’s going to happen with this wonderful piece of evidence of our state’s diversity?” she said.
Chiat influenced the synagogue’s being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, the only Minnesota synagogue on it. But by the mid-1990s, B’nai Abraham was no longer in use. Eveleth’s synagogue was sold and destroyed as was Chisholm’s. Hibbing’s was converted into a church.
In 2002, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota listed B’nai Abraham among the state’s 10 most endangered historic structures. Two years later, Margie Ostrov remembers walking into the building. Pipes had frozen and burst. The smell of mold permeated. Floors were warped and stained. In the lower level social hall, an open box of cookies, a bottle of kosher Mogen David wine and napkins still sat on a table.
“It’s like they just walked out because they couldn’t bear to deal with it,” she said.
The Friends, partnering with the Virginia Area Historical Society, raised money to replace the roof. Grants from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and Minnesota Historical Society’s legacy funds, among others, have supported the purchase of a handicap lift, new hardwood floors and ceilings, releaded stained glass windows, and updated heating and plumbing.
All the work has been done by people from the Range, Chiat noted. The Friends hope to raise the final $50,000 to finish the work, including a serving kitchen and front entry. But their dream has been realized.
This fall, three groups of Jewish teenagers from the Twin Cities traveled to B’nai Abraham to view exhibits and learn the history of the synagogue and its families. Many of those families are their own. In addition, the center sponsors dozens of annual culture events, from state champion fiddler Mary LaPlant to a lecture by David Paul Wellstone. All our welcome.
“This wonderful little building was almost lost,” Chiat said. “I give thanks that it’s still with us and, hopefully, will be with us for years to come.”
Follow Gail on Twitter: @grosenblum