Rabbi Morris Allen has led the since 1986, when the congregation met in borrowed space and had only a few dozen members.
Today, Beth Jacob’s membership has blossomed to more than 400 households, and Allen said he believes himself to be the longest-serving clergy in Dakota County.
On Feb. 11, Beth Jacob will honor Allen and his wife, the St. Paul pediatrician Dr. Phyllis Gorin, with a post-Shabbos dinner and speech by New York Times religion columnist Samuel Freedman.
Allen was named by the Jewish daily Forward newspaper as one of America’s “50 most significant Jewish leaders” and has taken a prominent role in the Magen Tzedek method of kosher certification.
Mendota Heights Patch spoke with Allen about the Beth Jacob congregation and its relationship to the local community.
How has Beth Jacob grown and changed over the last 25 years?
I came to Beth Jacob in August of '86 when we were still meeting in the St. Paul JCC, and we had about 60, 70 names on the piece of paper of people who were members. We’re now a congregation of 400 households. It’s a congregation that has both been able to have a founding vision and allow that vision to mature and to grow. Our congregation is engaged. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for us to become part of the landscape of Mendota Heights. We’re the only Jewish institution in Dakota County, although now I think (Chabad-) Lubavitch have a little house up there in West St. Paul. It’s been a great community to be a part of, to shape, to learn from.
What is your approach to engaging with the broader Mendota Heights community?
I think many of our congregants have been very involved in Mendota Heights issues. For example, one of our congregants was a major proponent of the bond referendum in November, and having a person like that who really is involved in the larger concerns about education in Mendota Heights, quality of life in Mendota Heights, matters. I think we can go down a list of people who shape that kind of experience. We’ve had people serve on commissions in Mendota Heights. I think our congregation is part of Mendota Heights culture and all of those things help create a more vibrant and meaningful life for all of us.
Is there a proudest moment from your quarter century leading the congregation?
Some of my proudest moments are moments of difficulty for people in our congregation where our congregation has rallied to support people in need. We raised funds to help some of our congregants avoid foreclosure on their homes. It’s a congregation that has nurtured a substantive Jewish life for many people. I don’t think the rabbinate is about single moments, (but) we’ve had some really great moments. I’d have to say the moments I’ve been privileged to do weddings of kids whose baby namings I did when they were born. Some of the best moments are the moments from longevity.
What do you see as the ongoing challenges for Beth Jacob? Are there any new initiatives you’re excited about?
I’m in the process of creating a collaborative rabbinate. I’ve been a solo practitioner and at some term I think it’s necessary to think about long-term transition. I plan to be here for a long, long time, but we’re in the process of beginning to look for an assistant rabbi, and we’re hopeful that that will reach success this year.
In your online bio, it says you are an “outspoken advocate for the security of the Jewish state of Israel.” Do you view Israel, or the Jewishness of Israel as being threatened?
The real issue for Israel is the soul of the Jewish state. While I do worry about external borders and what may be happening in Iran, I think we have a responsibility to look at the quality of the soul of the state of Israel. I think that in many ways the Jewish community that we have created here in Mendota Heights is a model for the kind of religious community that should exist in Israel—open, accessible, affirming.
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