Bringing It All Back Home: Live in Bob Dylan's Childhood Synagogue

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The Minnesota synagogue where a young Bob Dylan, then known as Bobby Zimmerman, chanted for his 1954 bar mitzvah is for sale as a possible multifamily or single-family residence. After about 90 days on the market with no offers on the $119,000 listing, owner Brenda Shafer-Pellinen decided that she needed to beef up the marketing using Dylan's name, in the hopes his fame will help sell this split-entry property -- No. 8 on the Bob Dylan walking tour in Hibbing (population: 17,071).

She and her husband, Eric, bought the building in 2001 (pictured below), hoping to turn it into a bed and breakfast, reports the Duluth News Tribune. But when their careers stayed on the fast track, three hours south in the Twin Cities, they just didn't have the time to rehab the building, which has not been a synagogue since Agudath Achim Synagogue disbanded in the 1980s.
The synagogue purchased it from the Swedish Evangelical Emanuel Lutheran Church in 1922, but more recently the lower level has been rented out as an apartment and the upper two levels as a social hall and meeting place for a religious group, which had hopes of raising money to purchase it.

The listing agent, Robert Valentini of Perrella & Associates, says the building is not really set up as a house. "It would be more suitable for a small church if there were more churches being established, [but] our society is going further away from that. At this point it would be more of a duplex rental property or for someone who wants a unique place."

It would take quite a bit of rehabbing to turn this 4,300-square-foot building into a single-family residence, says Marilyn Chiat, a Twin Cities architectural historian who has written extensively about religious structures on the Iron Range. "The last time I saw it, last summer, it was quite neglected and was in bad condition," she says.

Shafer-Pellinen says the property has been painted and cleaned up a bit, now that tenants no longer occupy it. The residence has huge gold-hued stained-glass windows on the main level and a three-color circle with the Star of David at the south peak.

"I love the main level because it has the huge high ceilings and the gold windows on the sides," she says. What was the main sanctuary, she calls the great room; it includes the living room and dining area, and opens to the kitchen. Behind it is the family room, with a fireplace where the altar would've been. "It is peaceful and comfortable."

Upstairs from the main sanctuary are lofts on either end. One loft, which she used as the master bedroom, has a bathroom and the other loft she envisions as an office, because it has built-in shelving that was used for storing hymnals. Although the lower level does not have egress windows, it is being billed as a three-bedroom, full-bath basement apartment, which Shafer-Pellinen had rented for a while to her sister. After her sister moved out, a religious group entered into a lease-to-own agreement, according to the group's founder, Yochanan Ballek.

"We were paying a monthly fee to the owners ($923, not including about $400 for utilities), but with the way the economy had gone, people had left and money wasn't coming in to cover the costs each month," said Ballek, the leader of the group D'var Torah, who says that he had put down a $20,000 deposit but didn't have the funds to make the balloon payment for a $135,000 purchase a year later. "I really want to see it as a historical building for the Jewish community," he says.

"You can't restore every building, you have to pick and choose the ones that are best represented," said Chiat, who is working with a group to restore, as a museum, another nearby extinct synagogue, which is on the National Register and will house information about Jewish life on the Iron Range. "We have to make sure we save those that are most prominent and most important, and if the others are restored to some usable use, like a residence or a cultural center or museum, that's great. I would not want to see it become a pub."

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