THE TEMPLE'S STORY
Helena’s Jewish pioneers struggled for more than 25 years without a permanent place to worship. Temple Emanu-El, the first synagogue between Portland and Minneapolis, was dedicated 120 years ago. Its cornerstone bears the Jewish year 5651 (1891).
Congregation leader Herman Ganz addressed the Helena community, noting that the long-awaited synagogue was intended, in the spirit of community, “as a gift to ornament the city we love.”
Decades later when the congregation sadly handed the synagogue's keys to the State of Montana during the Great Depression, it was done with the promise that the building would serve “a good and social purpose.” So it was. The State converted the building to a social service office then sold the synagogue to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Helena in 1981. Both the State and Bishop have been good stewards of the building.
Thanks to the active Jewish and historic preservation communities, the synagogue was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Earlier, Helena leaders, the Jewish community and the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation came together to dedicate the historic synagogue as the site of the first Jewish house of worship in Montana, 1891.
Now, for the synagogue to come full circle, to re-emerge as a center of Jewish life, education and worship, a place for the greater Helena community to learn about tolerance, would be extraordinary.
-- Historian Ellen Baumler, 2021