Women at Mount Zion

Education, Justice, Spirituality, and Leadership

Women have been active participants at Mount Zion since its inception. However, women only gradually gained full membership and privileges equal to that of men. Traditionally, women and men pray separately in Orthodox synagogues, so it is notable that early on at Mount Zion men and women prayed together.1 As the timeline above illustrates, women at Mount Zion only gained rights to full fledged temple membership in 1903, and they were first able to vote in congregational meetings in 1953.2 

Women occupy central positions in Mount Zion's storied history. The women of Mount Zion established one of the most important communal institutions associated with the synagogue, the Neighborhood House, in response to the influx of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe to Saint Paul.3 Many influential Jewish women's organizations that are heavily involved in local and international politics can also be traced to Mount Zion. 

The Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society at Mount Zion, founded by Hannah Austrian in 1871, played an important role in fundraising for the congregation during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, ensuring adequate funds for the construction and social works projects that Mount Zion undertook during this time.4The Council of Jewish Women was also founded by the women of Mount Zion in 1890. The Mount Zion Women's Sisterhood began in 1871, and the group orchestrates a range of programming for the congregation and Saint Paul community.5 The Sisterhood celebrated their centennial in 1971.  

A commitment to service and justice has anchored women's activities at Mount Zion, as have the values of Jewish spirituality and learning. In 1957, Jennelle Bernstein became the first girl to become a bat mitzvah at Mount Zion, an important rite of passage during which a Jewish girl marks her commitment to the commandments and reads from the Torah for the first time.6 

“I read from the Torah from the upper pulpit. I remember what I wore, the luncheon we had in the reception hall, how I was proud of myself that I had done it, and relieved that it was over.”7                       -Jennelle Bernstein, 1957 

  1. “History of the Reform Movement,” My Jewish Learning (blog), accessed May 31, 2021, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/reform-judaism/.

  2. Sally Rubinstein, “Historical Tidbits” n.d.

  3. Weber, Laura. "Mount Zion Temple, St. Paul." MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society. http://www.mnopedia.org/group/mount-zion-temple-st-paul (accessed May 31, 2021).

  4. Sally Rubinstein, “Historical Tidbits - Mount Zion in the 1870s,” n.d., 3.

  5. Sally Rubinstein, “Historical Tidbits - Mount Zion in the 1870s,” n.d., 3.

  6. https://pluralism.org/bat-mitzvah

  7. Sally Rubinstein, “Historical Tidbits - Epilogue and Appendix,” n.d., 14.

Women of Mount Zion Today

The women of Mount Zion's commitment to social action and community service are enduring. In recent decades, women at Mount Zion have continued to engage with the city of Saint Paul. In 1987, a highly successful food shelf program was initiated by the Sisterhood.8 Internally, under the leadership of Rabbi Leigh Lerner in the 1980s and 1990s, Mount Zion adopted gender-sensitive language in prayer services, and during this time Mount Zion elected its first female president, Judy Rose in 1987.9  

Today, women at Mount Zion are important community leaders, guiding the congregation in worship, administrative duties, and community engagement. Women are active in the highest levels of Mount Zion clergy and administrative roles. Currently, the congregation is served by Rabbi Adam Spilker along with Rabbi Ester Adler who joined Mount Zion in 2000. Two female cantors also serve Mount Zion congregants: Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker and Cantor Jennifer Strauss-Klein.10  

  1. Sally Rubinstein, “Historical Tidbits - Mount Zion in the 80s and 90s,” n.d., 12.

  2. Sally Rubinstein, “Historical Tidbits - Mount Zion in the 80s and 90s,” n.d., 12.

  3. https://mzion.org/about/clergy-and-staff/