Unlikely neighbors model cooperation

Meredith Gallagher

In the office of the Beth El Synagogue hangs a painting given to them by Benilde-St. Margaret’s art students. With vibrant colors, it depicts the Bread of the Earth and Fruit of the Vine and symbolizes the harmonious relationship between BSM and Beth El.

Though it seems odd to have a Catholic school right across the street from a Jewish synagogue, the two institutions get along well. “BSM and Beth El have always had a good relationship,” said Linda Goldberg, executive director at the synagogue.

“I thought it was really cool,” said one of Beth El’s newest additions, Rabbi Avi Olitzky, when he found out that a Catholic school was right across the street from the synagogue. “I believe people have to come together despite their differences; they have to come together because of their differences.”

The interactions between BSM and Beth El began back in 1961 when the Christian Brothers sold some of BSM’s land to Beth El after the congregation changed location from the north side of Minneapolis (where they had been located since 1926) to St. Louis Park.

Today, it is thanks to the Beth El Synagogue that BSM sophomores and juniors are allowed to park in the synagogue’s parking lot instead of the street. “We have it in the contract that we get the last half of the parking lot,” said Mrs. Mary Andersen, junior and senior dean at BSM.

Most of the year, students take full advantage of the lot across the street. “We don’t need the entire parking lot during the week. It just sits empty,” Goldberg said. Although a majority of the time BSM sophomores and juniors can park in the lot, there are a few days a year where the Beth El congregation needs BSM to return the favor. “Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are our holiest holidays, and between 2500 and 3,000 people attend services throughout the day,” Goldberg said. “They were spilling out into the neighborhood.”

To accomodate the extra traffic, the Beth El congregation uses the BSM parking lot. The students in turn are asked to park at the Jewish Community Center lot on Cedar Lake Road a few blocks away. Because the JCC is closed for the religious holidays, their parking lot is available for the students to use. “We’ve done the busing for about three years now. It can be a little high maintenance, but it’s totally worth it,” said Mrs. Andersen. “We split the cost.”

Typically, either Yom Kippur or one of the two days of Rosh Hashanah will fall on a weekend, but this year all three days fell during the week. “We realize it is a big inconvenience with the busing and everything, but we really appreciate it,” Goldberg said.

Beth El and BSM have helped each other out in other ways over the years. When BSM was under construction a seven years ago, Beth El let BSM teachers use space in the synagogue for standardized testing and large assemblies. “We didn’t have a lot of large meeting rooms,” Mrs. Andersen said. “The only option was the gym, and if that was being used we had no where to go.”

Construction has been completed for a seven years, but the relations between the synagogue and BSM will continue. Rabbi Olitzky hopes to one day come talk to students at BSM or teach a class. “I would be willing to talk about anything,” he said. “And I’m sure I would learn a lot, too.”

Both BSM and Beth El can learn a lot from each other, and appreciate the strong relationship they have had over the years. “They’re very good neighbors to us, and we like to be the same,” Mrs. Andersen.