After three decades, a ‘changing of guard’ at St. Louis Kollel

In this 2014 image, Rabbi Menachem Greenblatt takes part in a procession marking the completion of a new Torah scroll for the St. Louis Kollel. File photo: Donald Meissner

Eric Berger, Associate Editor

Ever since Rabbi Menachem Greenblatt spearheaded efforts to start the St. Louis Kollel in 1991, he has served as dean — in a part-time capacity.

Now, three decades later, Greenblatt is stepping down from the position to allow a rabbi to run the Orthodox Jewish organization, which focuses on study of the religion, education and outreach, on a full-time basis.

“I wanted to get a young, energetic rabbi who was able to attract five other rabbis and their families and recreate what we started with years ago,” said Greenblatt, who will continue to lead the Agudas Israel of St. Louis synagogue. “In the life of the Kollel, we have reached the point where we need to look forward with new energy and new vigor.”

During Greenblatt’s tenure with the organization, it has become a mainstay of Jewish life in St. Louis, serving not only Orthodox Jews but also Jews who are not religious through the establishment of Torah and Turf, a program that has been replicated in other parts of the country in which participants play flag football and learn about Jewish topics. 

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“We would like to make [Torah and Turf] into a much larger network that encompasses many other cities. It’s engaged young Jewish men who in many, many cases have very little connection with the larger Jewish community,” said Greenblatt.

The organization, which is located on Delmar Boulevard in University City, typically has a staff featuring five young rabbis who move with their families to St. Louis and study and teach Judaism. 

“We take these young budding rabbis, and they are here for anywhere from three to five years and finish their mission here and their training and then move on to fill positions either here locally or elsewhere,” Greenblatt explained.

But the rabbi said it became unreasonable to fill individual rabbinic fellowship positions rather than hire an entire team of rabbis who know one another, as has become the trend at kollels in other cities. 

For “the cohesiveness of the Kollel, it’s very important to have likeminded members to join…and fellows that join that are similar in their skillsets and outlook on life,” said Greenblatt.

The organization hopes to have hired the new rabbis by September. To complete that task, the Kollel has hired Rabbi Dovid Miller, who will lead the organization. Miller previously served at the Lawrence Far Rockaway Community Kollel in New York. 

Miller is a “very bright young man, accomplished. He’s a scholar. He’s got great personality, and we feel that he is really the right person to inspire his team,” Greenblatt said. 

In spite of Greenblatt’s confidence in his successor, he said he will miss regularly interacting with young rabbis.

“They come here when they are in their 20s and are still training in rabbinics and are developing into great Torah scholars. I personally have overseen that and been witness to that over the past 30 years. It’s gratifying for me to see how a person develops in his own studies and his own leadership abilities, so you actually see the product as it develops,” Greenblatt said.

Miller said he enjoys working at a community kollel because he is able to have an “impact on the community” and bring “Torah to every Jew.” 

When visiting St. Louis, “I was very impressed with the vibrancy of the Jewish community,” said Miller, who plans to move here this summer. “It’s really the type of place where we are bringing authentic Torah to people, making those connections, building those relationships. I feel that there is a lot of potential. There has been a lot of success, and we are hoping to build on that.”