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B'nai Abraham Synagogue
B'nai Abraham Synagogue.jpg
B'nai Abraham Synagogue viewed from the northwest
B'nai Abraham Synagogue (Virginia, Minnesota) is located in Minnesota
B'nai Abraham Synagogue (Virginia, Minnesota)
Location in Minnesota
B'nai Abraham Synagogue (Virginia, Minnesota) is located in the United States
B'nai Abraham Synagogue (Virginia, Minnesota)
Location in the United States
Location 328 S. 5th Street,
Virginia, Minnesota
Area Less than one acre
Built 1909
NRHP reference No. 80004356
Added to NRHP August 18, 1980

B'nai Abraham Synagogue is a former synagogue in Virginia, Minnesota, United States. It was constructed in 1909 as the first purpose-built synagogue on the Iron Range. It served as the heart of the local Jewish community in the early 20th century. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 for its local significance in the themes of religion and social history. It was nominated for attesting both to the ethnic diversity of the Iron Range and to the commonality of its immigrant groups maintaining cohesion around religious centers.

A declining congregation forced the synagogue to close its doors in the mid-1990s. However, community support and renovations have preserved B'nai Abraham as a museum and cultural center.


Virginia became a hub of lumber and mining industry in the 1890s. Jewish merchants and clerks soon settled in the newly established town. In 1894, Jews from Virginia and nearby communities began to hold religious services in Virginia's old North Pole Hall. Most of Virginia's Jewish population were immigrants from an area of the Russian Empire that is now Lithuania.

As the town boomed, so too did its Jewish population. Members of Virginia's growing Jewish community founded the congregation of B'nai Abraham in 1905. They held their first meeting in Virginia's Socialist Opera House on November 20. Their first goal was the construction of a synagogue. Other Iron Range synagogues in Hibbing and Eveleth were converted churches. B'nai Abraham was the first synagogue to be built on the Range.

Origin and use

The women of the congregation formed the B'nai Abraham Ladies' Aid Society in 1908. They began to raise funds for the construction of a synagogue and were very successful. Among their contributions to the building effort was the donation of $700 (equivalent to $16,546 in 2018) to purchase one of B'nai Abraham's 13 stained glass windows. The Ladies' Aid Society continued long after the synagogue's construction was complete. The group of women called themselves the Sunshine Club. They visited sick members of the congregation, hosted community events, and assisted new Jewish immigrants in the area.

The synagogue served as the heart of Virginia's tightly interwoven Jewish community. Visiting rabbis conducted services. Holidays and Bar Mitzvahs were celebrated in the synagogue. B'nai Abraham was also used as a gathering place for weddings, birthdays, and retirements. The synagogue served as a meeting place for the Virginia chapters of several Jewish organizations including B'nai B'rith and Hadassah.

The synagogue's distinctive stone foundation, windows, Romanesque style, and red brick exterior make B'nai Abraham one of Virginia's most recognizable landmarks. In 1980 B'nai Abraham was the first Minnesota synagogue to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Decline and restoration

During the second half of the twentieth century, the Jewish population on the Iron Range declined. Falling membership had the forced the closure of synagogues in Hibbing, Chisholm, and Eveleth. By 1990 B'nai Abraham was the last synagogue on the Iron Range. In the mid-1990s B'nai Abraham also closed its doors. By 2002 the congregation had declined to two members. That year the building was listed as one of the most threatened historic structures in Minnesota.

In 2004 a nonprofit organization, the Friends of B'nai Abraham, formed to save the building. They acquired it from its previous owners and began to restore the historic building with the help of state and local grants as well as donations. The building reopened in the summer of 2008, and was then jointly managed by the Friends organization and the Virginia Area Historical Society. It is used as a cultural center and museum and includes a permanent exhibit documenting the history of Jewish settlement on the Iron Range.

In 2020, Friends of B'nai Abraham conveyed the synagogue to the Northern Lights Music Festival, which has used the building as a performance venue. The Northern Lights non-profit became solely responsible for management of the building.

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