Rabbi Kassel Abelson papers available to public

By Kate Dietrick
Archivist, Nathan and Theresa Berman Upper Midwest Jewish Archives

Rabbi Kassel Abelson in study, year unknown.
Rabbi Kassel Abelson in study, year unknown.

This past fall, the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives received a new donation of the papers of local rabbi Kassel Abelson. The papers are now organized and ready for researchers to peruse, standing as a testament to Abelson’s career as rabbi of Beth El Synagogue for 40 years.

Kassel Abelson was born in 1924 and raised in Brooklyn by a Lithuanian father and an American mother. After graduating from New York University in 1942, he was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1948, the same institution where his father George was ordained in 1920. Abelson began his tenure at Beth El Synagogue in Minneapolis in 1948, but left in 1951 to become a chaplain in the United States Army Air Corps, during which time he served in Casablanca, Morocco.

American Jewish World magazine announces return of Abelson to Beth El Synagogue in January 1960 issue.
American Jewish World magazine announces
return of Abelson to Beth El Synagogue
in January 1960 issue.

He returned to Minnesota and Beth El in 1957 as assistant rabbi to Rabbi David Aronson, until Aronson’s retirement when Abelson took over as Senior Rabbi in 1959. Before retiring in 1992 in order to become more active in setting national Judaic policy, Abelson worked closely with the Women’s Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, and through his interest with Beth El’s youth program helped to create the first United Synagogue Youth chapter in 1948. He was also instrumental the congregation’s relocation to St. Louis Park from North Minneapolis in the late 1960s.

Abelson’s papers donated to the archives span one hundred years, from 1913 to 2013, with the majority of the papers dated between 1943 and 2000, and are housed in a total of 45 boxes.

This collection consists of administrative, professional, and personal materials related to Rabbi Kassel Abelson’s career and includes:

  • Subject files related to various subjects of interest in the form of newspaper clippings, journal articles, and magazine articles; sermons written on 3×5 cards with information regarding various subjects of interest;
Letter from National Jewish Welfare Board to Office of the Chief of Chaplains, Department of the Army, endorsing Abelson to become a member of the Army Reserve Chaplains, 1951.
Letter from National Jewish Welfare Board to
Office of the Chief of Chaplains, Department of the Army,
endorsing Abelson to become a member of
the Army Reserve Chaplains, 1951.
  • Beth El administrative files including service booklets and sheet music, bulletins, prayer and reading guides, wedding information, and correspondence;
Various bulletins from Beth El Synagogue, 1960s and 1970s
Various bulletins from Beth El Synagogue,
1960s and 1970s
  • Materials related to Jewish organizations, such as United Synagogue Youth, the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the Jewish Community Center, and the Federation;
United Synagogue Youth Songster, year unknown. Rabbi Abelson was instrumental in the creation of the organization.
United Synagogue Youth Songster, year unknown.
Rabbi Abelson was instrumental in the creation
of the organization.
  • Publications and writings including notes, drafts, sermons for High Holidays and weddings, and eulogies written on 3×5 cards;
One of five boxes containing the numerous amount of eulogies that Rabbi Abelson gave during his tenure at Beth El.
One of five boxes containing the numerous amount
of eulogies that Rabbi Abelson gave during his
tenure at Beth El.
  • And media including audio reels from concerts, records from Abelson’s personal collection, and VHS tapes from different services.

Rabbi Kassel Abelson’s papers join the Upper Midwest Jewish Archives alongside other local rabbi papers, including Bernard Raskas of Temple of Aaron in St. Paul and Stacy Offner of Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis. All of these collections and more are open and available to the public. For more information, please visit our website at www.lib.umn.edu/umja.

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