Temple Adas Israel

Temple Adas Israel, date and photographer unknown. [Image: Upper Midwest Jewish Archives]

302 E. Third St. | Architect Unknown | Built 1902 | Lost: 2019

Duluth’s early Jewish population consisted mainly of immigrants from Russia or eastern Europe, most of whom began arriving in the 1880s. By 1900 Duluth had three synagogues serving about 1,500 members: Adas Israel (“Congregation of Israel”), Tifereth Israel, and Temple Emmanuel. The Orthodox Adas Israel congregation, originally a group of Lithuanian Orthodox Jews lead by Samuel Karon, was organized in the 1880s south of Buchanan Street in what is today’s Canal Park Business District, then the least desirable residential area the city had to offer.

In 1901 the congregation, fifty families strong, began construction on a modest, wooden vernacular synagogue at the southeast corner of Third Avenue East and Third Street. Two entry/stair towers capped with onion-shaped Byzantine domes occupied either end of the central Third Street façade: Orthodox synagogues separated men and women, and the twin vestibules provided separate entrances as well. A large circular window carrying the Star of David looked out from the gable end over Third Street.

Congregants held services on their own until hiring a rabbi in 1903. Because of its location, the synagogue became known as the Third Street Shul. (“Shul” is Yiddish for synagogue; when Tifereth Israel was built a block away in 1922, some starting calling the area “Little Israel.”) The congregation also began operating a Moses Montefiore Hebrew School in 1905; known to most as the Talmud Torah (“Teach the Torah”; its name was officially changed to the Ida Cook Hebrew School in 1954). In 1906 some members of Ada Israel left to form a new congregation named Talmud Torah because they met at the school to worship. The congregation dissolved in 1935. Most of the West End’s B’nai Israel (Sons of Israel) congregation, organized in 1910 at 1511 West Michigan Street, relocated to the Central Hillside by the end of the 1920s. When it dissolved in 1930, most of its two hundred congregants merged with Adas Israel.

At one point, six separate synagogues served Duluth, but the Zenith City’s Jewish population peaked at four thousand in the 1930s. According to Duluth historian Joanne Sher, by 1940 Duluth’s Jewish population had dropped to 2,633, including 827 families. In 1947 Rabbi Benjamin Silman was hired to serve the congregations of both Adas Israel and Shaare Tzadek. When Shaare Tzadek dissolved in 1967, its congregants joined Adas Israel. Three years later Duluth’s Jewish population dropped to 1,100. In 2019 Adas Israel still had seventy-five congregants. Unfortunately that year the building was destroyed by arson fire accidentally set by a homeless man trying to warm himself. Firefighters were able to save eight of the congregation’s fourteen Torah scrolls. As of this writing in 2021, there are no official plans to build a new temple.