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December 1, 2015 / 19 Kislev, 5776
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Streetcar to Shul

Streetcar to Shul

Photo Credit: From the Steinfeldt Photography Collection of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest.

This picture is titled: “Rabbi Kleinman with students from the Temple of Aaron Religious School.” It was shot in 1918, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Almost 100 years separate me from the small children in this picture. I don’t know their names, I don’t even know their ages – I’m guessing 7 or 8, but people aged differently 100 years ago.

I googled Rabbi Kleinman and Temple of Aaron and got rich rewards: the temple’s website has kept well written records of its history:

In 1916, the Temple began its own Hebrew school. When Rabbi Kleinman came to St. Paul in 1917, he found the sexton teaching a class of 35 pupils. The rabbi wanted more of his congregants’ children to receive a Hebrew education, and he wanted them to be taught by the newest and best methods.

Consequently, in October, 1918, Ida Leviton and Rae Goldberg, seniors at Minneapolis’ North High School, were hired. They earned $40/month, out of which they paid their own streetcar fare, a dime each way (double the five cent intra-city fare). Under the direction of these two girls, the number of students rose to 60.

In 1919, Rabbi Kleinman also hired Louis Gordon, a young man who was to become a legend in the annals of Hebrew education in St. Paul. Gordon dedicated his life to securing the finest possible Hebrew education for all who sought it. In 1921, he became the first Talmud Torah principal, working at that position until ill health forced him to give it up in 1959.

Rabbi Kleinman and Louis Gordon in 1918 launched a new era in Hebrew education for St. Paul, introducing the Ivrit B’Ivrit, where classes and readings are given only in the language being taught, rather than relying on translations. Next, Rabbi Kleinman started a tuition scholarship system for the many students who could not pay for lessons, and he instituted a bus system so that students from all over St. Paul could easily attend classes.

Hebrew School was a forerunner of synagogue youth groups like USY. Ample opportunities were provided for fun and creativity. In winter, the corner lot was flooded for ice skating, and in summer, it became a baseball diamond. There were long-remembered special events, such as the play, In the Days of the Maccabees. The performance, given entirely in Hebrew, prompted skeptical grandparents to admit beamingly that their grandchildren were learning Hebrew properly after all!

Programs and parties marked every holiday, but students who had completed two years of study didn’t need a program to display their talents. For them, there was the Junior Synagogue every Saturday and holiday, with one of the students acting as cantor.


This is an image of the Sixth Avenue North streetcar line, Minneapolis, Minnesota that Ida Leviton and Rae Goldberg took to get to the temple—at 10 cents each way.

I checked the online inflation calculator and found that $0.10 in 1918 had the same buying power as $1.68 in 2013.

OK, that’s not so unreasonable for carfare.

By the way — check out the Coke sign on the right. Now, keep in mind that only in  1929 did Coca Cola become cocaine free. That means folks could still get a buzz on Sixth Av. in Minneapolis when this picture was taken…

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.

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2 Responses to “Streetcar to Shul”

  1. Doug Kraft says:

    I hope I can get this on Kindle.

Comments are closed.

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