The community leaders that signed the Articles of Incorporation for the Jewish Community Center of Greater Minneapolis on July 14, 1959, and the founding Board of Directors, had the vision that we needed a central address in the community, a place to gather, socialize, and meet. Without their foresight, our experiences today would not be possible.
The Sabes JCC was originally established in the North Side of Minneapolis, where residents wanted to see the formation of a “properly supervised social center for Minneapolis’ rapidly growing Jewish community” in the years following the end of World War I. Before that time, community services and social functions were organized at a variety of local sites, including the Talmud Torah, the Neighborhood House that served the Romanian Jewish Community, Pillsbury House, Wells Memorial South Side Neighborhood House, and the North East Neighborhood House.
The increasing demands of a growing community were more than the existing resources could comfortably handle. By 1922, Talmud Torah’s director wrote, “I regret the necessity of having to call the community’s attention to the lack of space in which the Social Service Department has to carry on its activities. It is time to find the ways and means to rent a new building, or to enlarge this one.”
In 1924, the 15,000 Jewish immigrants in North Minneapolis had a building to call their own: a community center at 909 Elwood Avenue. The building was named for Emanuel Cohen, a Minneapolis lawyer and community leader born in Scranton, PA.
Emanuel Cohen arrived in Minneapolis in the early 1880’s and began a lifetime of local community service and a distinguished legal career. His wife, Nina, was the founder of the Minneapolis chapter of National Council of Jewish Women. He was also the author of the bill that outlawed restrictive covenants in Minnesota real estate transactions, which, at the time the legislature enacted the bill, were used largely against Jews.
One of his greatest legacies was his will. Childless and a widower when he died in 1920, Emanuel Cohen left the bulk of his estate to the Associated Jewish Charities for the creation of a center for Jewish youth. The grateful community named its new neighborhood center for Emanuel Cohen, their most generous, and farsighted, donor.
The Emanuel Cohen Center flourished with activities for people of all ages, sponsoring a variety of athletic and social programs along with much-needed social and community services. For example, the first nursery school was started in 1930-fees were only 60 cents a week!
Eventually, the building at 909 Elwood was knocked down and the Emanuel Cohen Center moved next door to more spacious quarters at 915 Elwood Avenue. However, the community and the neighborhood were changing. With the return of the veterans from World War II, the old North Side community began to expand into the suburbs, and the need for a new location was clear.
Many community members at that time were working together with the Federation to decide where to relocate. The Federation suggested they do a Jewish “nose count,” going door-to-door to see where the majority of the Jewish families were moving.
In 1959, Sid Lorber, past JCC president and Alan Stiegler, a local attorney, drew up Articles of Incorporation and named this new entity the Jewish Community Center of Greater Minneapolis because they wanted it to be broader than just St. Louis Park. The incorporation documents were signed on July 14, 1959. And so it all began?
A massive community fund drive was started, and 2.5 million dollars later, the new Jewish Community Center of Greater Minneapolis began to take shape.
In 1963, the Emanuel Cohen Center was sold, and the Center took up temporary residences, first at Meadowbrook School, and then on Republic Avenue. In 1964, the community purchased the 16-acre site where Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, and Golden Valley meet, the site of the JCC today.
The building was dedicated in 1969 as the Jay and Rose Phillips Building, and when the shining new facility opened its doors, it did so to the acclaim and pride of the entire community.
Thanks to the generosity of the community and of Bob & Janet Sabes and the Sabes Family Foundation , the JCC celebrated the grand opening of a fully renovated center in 2003, renamed the Sabes JCC. After 18 months, and $17.5 million worth of work, the completely remodeled center now features more than 195,000 square feet of useable space, including indoor and outdoor pools, the Tychman Shapiro Art Gallery, auditorium and Dolly and Edward Fiterman Theatre, gymnasium, fitness center and locker rooms, and a variety of meeting rooms and activities. The renovation also included an addition to the building that houses the Amos and Celia Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School and Talmud Torah as well as the creation of the Barry Family Campus.