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Apr 2003 / church and state :: email this story to a friend

Got Shabbat?
By Karen Karabell

Traditional Judaism is again taking root in the City of St. Louis. There are now two Saturday mornings each month in which traditional Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat) services are held in the Central West End.

The CWE was once home to a significant Jewish institutional presence. Within a two-mile radius of Delmar and Kingshighway, one can find a number of former synagogues, all now abandoned or converted to different uses. As the area's Jewish population joined the post-war exodus to the suburbs, Jewish institutions followed in short order. By the early 1980s, the United Hebrew Congregation on Skinker Boulevard was the city's sole remaining Jewish house of worship. The former UHC now houses the research library and archives of the Missouri Historical Society, while the congregation itself has relocated to West County.

Since its inception in the mid-1980s, Central Reform Congregation, under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Susan Talve, has enjoyed tremendous success in re-establishing an organized Jewish presence in the Central West End. CRC went from renting space in a church to constructing its own building at Kingshighway and Waterman.

Nonetheless, a number of local residents — some of them long-time members of CRC — have felt the need for a smaller, more intimate Shabbat worship service that uses a traditional liturgy.

More than a decade ago, University City resident Don Makovsky recognized the need for a traditional service in the city when he was visiting a sick relative at the former Jewish Hospital. He founded an Orthodox minyan (a quorum of at least 10 Jewish men and boys age 13 and over) that currently meets the second Shabbat of each month at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

This minyan draws on students from Block Yeshiva High School who, like Makovsky, stay overnight in the Central West End and help lead services. (Orthodox Jews will not drive on the Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday evening.) The minyan also appeals to Central West End residents who enjoy a strictly Orthodox service.

For several years, though, a group of city Jews talked about creating a traditional service that would include the full participation of women. (In the world of Orthodox Judaism, women generally do not take public roles in worship services.) This became a reality last fall with the formation of the Traditional/Egalitarian Minyan.

This minyan meets on the third Shabbat of the month at the Central Reform Congregation Education House, 5062 Waterman (the first house west of the CRC parking lot).

The minyan welcomes anyone who is interested in a participatory and egalitarian service within the framework of a traditional Shabbat morning liturgy. Volunteer members of the minyan lead all aspects of the service. There is also a lively Torah discussion and a luncheon afterwards.

"I've been looking for this ever since I left Brandeis (University)," said Shari Allen, who was delighted after attending services on March 15. "This is the kind of small-scale participatory service that got me re-interested in Judaism."

The original organizers believed the traditional/egalitarian service would appeal only to Jews living in the Central West End, but the minyan has drawn worshippers from other neighborhoods as well. Allen lives in Maplewood. Others come from Lafayette Square, Ladue, and University City.

Wendy Love Anderson, an assistant professor in the Department of Theological Studies at St. Louis University, moved here from Chicago in the summer of 2002 and has been involved with the minyan since its inception.

"I work in the city and I intend to live in the city," said Anderson, who resides in University City and is currently house hunting. "I really love the traditional liturgy and I enjoy the intimate, participatory setting — plus I have fun reading Torah."

The traditional/egalitarian minyan couldn't take place without the generosity of the area's Jewish congregations. Topping the list of supporters is Central Reform Congregation. Not only does CRC offer space to the minyan, but it allows the minyan to use its "Holocaust scroll" — a Torah which survived the destruction of European Jewry during World War II.

Bais Abraham Congregation in University City loans prayer books for services. B'nai Amoona Congregation in West County donated chumashim ("The Five Books of Moses," or the Torah in book form), and Shaare Zedek Congregation in University City loans prayer shawls, known in Hebrew as "talleisim."

The next Orthodox-style minyan will meet at 9:30 a.m. on April 12 in the Stix Room of the former Jewish Hospital.

Because of the holiday of Passover, the Traditional/Egalitarian Minyan decided not to hold services in April. The minyan's next service is scheduled for 9 a.m. on May 17.

For up-to-date information about either minyan, visit the Web site or join the online chat list. Interested persons also may contact Karen Karabell at 314/534-1171.

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