Montana Jewish Project celebrates purchase of historic Helena synagogue

Posted at 10:15 AM, Aug 28, 2022

HELENA — The Montana Jewish Project celebrated their official purchase of the Temple Emanu-El with a small community celebration on Friday morning.

“I can't think of a better thing that I've done since being the bishop for almost three years than to be able to sign today the Jewish synagogue back to the Jewish community,” says Bishop Austin Vetter of the Diocese of Helena.

Montana’s oldest synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1891 and sold to the city of Helena in 1935 for $1, the building eventually landed in the hands of the diocese to be used as administrative offices.

In November of 2021, the diocese and the Montana Jewish Project (MJP) signed an agreement that allowed the sale of the property to come to fruition once the funds were secured.

The local, international, and interfaith support for this project was undeniable. Multiple businesses, churches, and individuals helped make this transfer of property a reality.

“ many different organizations. I mean, it really has felt like this is coming together of so many different people who see the value. And as the bishop said, that’s unusual, you know, in this time. It’s pretty unusual,” says Rebecca Stanfel, MJP Co-Founder and President of the Board of the MJP.

Ultimately this buyback of Temple Emanu-El allows the Jewish community in Helena and beyond a place to congregate and celebrate.

“We're standing on the ground of the community that built this and that is amazing to carry that dream forward when they thought that it was dead in 1935. The significance is building coalitions, building support across religious groups, across people of all faiths and no faith . . . ultimately, there's that Jewish phrase tikkun olam which means to repair the world. I think today we're repairing the world a little bit and we're going to keep doing that with all of these supporters that we have,” says Stanfel.

The MJP plans to rent out the first 2 floors of the building while utilizing the 3rd and final floor as a Jewish community center.