Building Jewish life at UMSL; Lip Sync Live in the Loop

Lisa Cohen, Linda Horwitz and Julie Pepper peform a number by ABBA during Lip Sync Live, a fundraiser for J Associates.  Photo: Ben Tishler  

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

In order to increase Jewish presence and, over time, grow admission among Jewish students, Chabad on Campus has funded a new part-time staff position to ramp up Jewish activities at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Esther “Esty” Munk was hired at the start of the 2015-2016 academic year to be a part-time facilitator of Jewish life at UMSL. 

“Her duties are to work closely with students and faculty to advance Jewish campus life at UMSL,” said Rabbi Hershey Novack of Chabad on Campus, based at Washington University. “We reinstated the Jewish Student Association that had become defunct there. We also began a lot of new activities and programs to attract students and interest in JSA.”

Prior to Rosh Hashanah, Munk and JSA members set up a table in the student center where they offered apples and honey to students, as well as the chance to try out a shofar. UMSL students also were invited to attend a Jewish College Night Cardinals game at Busch Stadium as well as sample kosher pizza inside a sukkah built on campus. Other Jewish-themed events included a “Torah Night to Get Tight,” where students paired up to learn a passage from the week’s parsha, and a Hanukkah Edition of “Chopped,” modeled after the popular Food Network show, which divided student into teams and gave them random ingredients to make latkes.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

Novack meets every other week with Munk, who is the daughter of Rabbi Gabriel Munk, head of school at Block Yeshiva High School. “We discuss programs, activities and what we can do to increase Jewish presence and broaden awareness,” Novack said.

“We don’t know the precise number (of Jewish students at UMSL but) we know they are there, we know there is some interest and we have to work hard to offer them similar opportunities to the ones that exist at Washington University,” he added. 

Novack said JSA is working to bring more Jewish speakers to the UMSL campus. A Hebrew language course is being offered this spring and meetings have occurred to lobby for course credits for students participating in Birthright Israel.

“It takes a period of time to become embedded in a campus culture, and at this point we are in the pilot phase,” said Novack, adding that he hopes to broaden the Jewish scope at other St. Louis-area colleges such as Webster University and St. Louis University. 

As for the future of the program at UMSL and whether the facilitator position will continue into the next academic school year, Novack said it will come down to funding. 

“Regardless of the number of Jewish students, it’s important they know they are part of the community,” he said. “The best way to reach them is through their peers on campus and that’s what we are trying to do.”

Rock the Loop

You know how you think you know somebody, but then you see a completely new side that really makes you sit up and take notice?

That’s more or less the buzz following Saturday’s “Lip Sync Live” fundraiser, sponsored by J Associates, at The Pageant. Eight different acts, featuring roughly 20 performers, appeared on stage in wigs and costumes, mimicking everyone from Sonny and Cher to Michael Jackson to ABBA.

“It exceeded everyone’s expectations,” said Tracey Singer, president of J Associates, adding that more than 500

people attended. “I think we’d like to keep this format for next year because it was so well-received and a really fun evening.”

Capitalizing on the popularity of the TV show “Lip Sync Battle,” the J Associates event featured familiar songs interpreted and lip-synched by local Jewish movers-and-shakers. Sheri Sherman, one of the performers, said she channeled her inner-Tina Turner to belt out “Proud Mary,” replete in a long shag wig and bedazzled mini-dress. Joining her on stage were the Ikettes, better known as Faith Berger, Janie Roodman Weiss and Galia Movitz, and the Ike man himself, Ben Nordstrom, who also served as the evening’s emcee.

“I was really pushing the envelope with this — it was risky business big time,” joked Sherman, who said that her daughter came in from New York, and her son from Hong Kong, to see her perform.

“I think I rehearsed the number 10 times a day leading up to the event. It took quite a bit of work and was much harder than I thought, but it was so much fun.”

Singer said rather than proclaim one winner, the judges paid tribute to each performer with special awards. Sherman, who is co-chair of the Jewish Light’s development committee, was named “Most Likely to Headline the Pageant,” while Sheila Flom, who lip-synced a number from “Hello Dolly,” got “Broadway Bound” and Andy Babitz, performing a medley of Michael Jackson songs, danced away with “Best Moonwalk.”

Singer said the event raised roughly $100,000, which will help fund various scholarships and programs at the Jewish Community Center.

Write stuff

december, a twice-yearly literary magazine based in St. Louis and edited by Gianna Jacobson, a past president of the Jewish Light, is sponsoring a memoir writing workshop with noted poet and best-selling author Marge Piercy. It will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 17 at the Jewish Community Center’s Adult Day Center in Creve Coeur.

Piercy is the author of 17 novels, 19 volumes of poetry and a critically acclaimed memoir. Joining her at the workshop will be her husband, novelist and essayist Ira Wood. They plan to focus on “compelling beginnings, authentic dialogue, and strategies for organizing your ideas and material.”

The cost of the workshop is $75 for current december subscribers and $95 for non-subscribers, which includes a one-year subscription. Registration is limited but currently available at

In addition, Jacobson will interview Piercy at a free event sponsored by the Jewish Book Festival at 7 p.m. that Sunday at the JCC Staenberg Family Complex. For more information, go to