Local yeshiva buys Bnai Emet


Last June, just before Bnai Emet Synagogue’s final Shabbat services, Neil Meyer said he hoped that the Bnai Emet property stayed in the Jewish community.

Meyer, of the Meyer and Njus law firm in Minneapolis, is president of the Bnai Emet board, the legal entity that was formed to manage disposition of the dissolved congregation’s assets.

“I think that it’s absolutely possible,” Meyer told the AJW last year. “We need to have a very serious discussion about the priorities in dealing with this real estate. There are competing values here, too. Is the priority to realize the greatest value for the property? Is there a priority to try to keep it in the Jewish community, and if not in the Jewish community, then in a faith community?”

On April 2, the Yeshiva of Minneapolis closed on its purchase of the former St. Louis Park shul. As the AJW went to press this week, details of the transaction were not available.

The former Bnai Emet Synagogue, at Highway 7 and Ottawa Avenue South in St. Louis Park, was sold on April 2. It will now house the new Yeshiva of Minneapolis, which is scheduled to open in the fall. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

Meyer said the property was sold as is, and mentioned that there is a “fair amount of structural work that needs to be done” on the 28,000-square-foot synagogue building.

The roof is leaking, so repairs are needed. “Repair may be too gentle a word,” said Meyer. “The roof needs to be replaced.”

He noted that the building did have an inspection, as required by the city of St. Louis Park.

The synagogue building, which sits on one and three-quarter acres, is just one of three pieces of real estate sold by Bnai Emet. The sale includes an additional quarter-acre parking lot across the street, and a small caretaker’s house and lot just north of the shul at 3100 Natchez Ave.

According to the St. Louis Park assessing department, the property was last valued at $2.1 million; and the caretaker’s house was assessed at $219,700. These properties were tax-exempt, as they were owned by a religious group.

A certificate of real estate value will be filed with Hennepin County, and the sale price for the Bnai Emet property will become public information, according to an employee with the St. Louis Park assessing department.

“There was never an asking price,” said Meyer. “We let the market set the asking price.”

The deal for the Yeshiva of Minneapolis to buy the Bnai Emet property was approved by the Bnai Emet board, which has six members. Last summer, Bnai Emet’s congregation merged with Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka, which was apprised of the offer, according to Meyer. Adath Jeshurun will receive the proceeds from the sale.

“Part of the proceeds will be used to establish a fund to perpetuate the legacy of the Bnai Emet Synagogue,” Meyer said, and suggested that funds could be used for a scholar-in-residence weekend, for example, and “the Bnai Emet name would be associated with that program, so that the name of Bnai Emet and the legacy of that community would consider on forever.”

Bnai Emet also owns a cemetery in Richfield. The details of how that will be managed are still being worked out.

“At some point in time, the legal entity, Bnai Emet Synagogue, will probably cease to exist,” Meyer said. “But that cemetery has an obligation to the families whose members are buried there, and we need to address that and make certain that those obligations are fulfilled, and that the cemetery remains… viable and open to the community for its use. That’s the next step that we’re taking in all of this.”

Last summer, Torahs and ritual items from Bnai Emet were brought to Adath Jeshurun; and other artworks and property went to individuals and organizations in the community. But some artwork was left for the buyer, the Yeshiva of Minneapolis.

Rabbi Shlomo Kutoff, a Minneapolis native and Torah Academy graduate, is executive director and Judaic studies principal of the new yeshiva. In an e-mail sent to supporters, he said the “large and beautiful facility will enhance the growth of the students and the yeshiva.”

It was also noted that the building has “ample and appropriate space” for classrooms, davening, physical education, dining, as well as dormitory facilities.”

In a separate e-mail, Kutoff announced that Mrs. G. Vance, of Torah Academy, had written a comprehensive curriculum that integrates different subjects, “thus allowing [the students] to get the most out of the time they spend in class and making sure they have a well rounded education.”

Kutoff also noted that the yeshiva had hired Dennis Hartman as its general studies principal. Hartman, of St. Cloud State University, has worked to help schools and charter schools “get off the ground.”

In a Dec. 2011 AJW story, Elka Smith reported that “several parents of current eighth grade boys have offered favorable feedback and have expressed interest to have their sons attend the Yeshiva of Minneapolis in the fall of 2012.”

Bnai Emet Synagogue was built in 1971 and served as the spiritual home for the newly created congregation that resulted from the merger of three former synagogues: Mikro Kodesh and Tifereth B’nai Jacob, both North Minneapolis shuls; and B’nai Abraham, which began in 1891, in South Minneapolis.

Meyer said the Bnai Emet board of trustees tried to honor the fiduciary obligation to realize a fair value for Bnai Emet’s property, as well as the “desire on part of the Bnai Emet community that the building remain standing” and be put to a use by the Jewish community.

“It’s always sad to see a congregation cease to function, but to the extent that their vision and goals and ideals can be perpetuated, that’s a good thing,” Meyer said. “And that’s something that we’re going to be able to do as a result of this transaction.”

(Mordecai Specktor contributed to this story.)