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Montana Jewish Project completes purchase of historic Helena synagogue

Temple Emanu-El
Posted at 12:53 PM, Aug 25, 2022

HELENA — The Montana Jewish Project (MJP) said it closed on the purchase of the Temple Emanu-El in Helena Thursday.

The non-profit purchased the synagogue from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena after a nearly year-long fund-raising effort.

According to the group, Temple Emanu-El is the oldest synagogue in Montana.

Temple Emanu-El Historic
A 19th-century image of Temple Emanu-El, Montana's first synagogue, from the Helena Board of Trade. (Courtesy: Ellen Baumler)

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1891 and sold to the City of Helena in 1935 during the Great Depression. The diocese purchased the building in 1981 and used it for administrative offices.

Plans for the Montana Jewish Project to purchase the building started last November when the diocese moved and consolidated its administrative offices.

MJP thanked Bishop Austin Vetter and said he played a key role in the negotiation and purchase of the building. Rebecca Stanfel, MJP president, also thanked the community members who donated to the project.

Temple Emanu-El Plaque
A plaque on the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena's offices marks the building's history as Temple Emanu-El, Montana's first synagogue.

“We are also grateful to the more than 2,000 donors from Helena and across Montana and the United States who made this dream a reality. Without their generosity and their gifts that ranged from $5 to $100,000, we know we would not be here today. We’re also thankful for the interfaith support we received from many Montana synagogues and churches, as well as from Montana businesses. This was truly a community-wide effort,” Stanfel said.

A small celebration is planned in Helena for Friday, August 26. The ceremonial signing is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. outside the former Temple Emnau-El at 515 N. Ewing St.