Comedian Schiff to perform at NHBZ dinner


If you think an anniversary celebration consists of the usual rubber chicken banquet dinner and long speeches, then you haven’t seen what Nusach Hari B’nai Zion (NHBZ) has planned for its 102nd anniversary commemoration and annual awards event on Sunday, Nov. 18 at the Crowne Plaza in Clayton.

“We’re going to have an entertainer for the first time in many years,” said Sandie Abrams, executive director of NHBZ, “and instead of a sit-down dinner we’re going to have an international buffet that will be spectacular.” In addition, attendees will be able to select from two different packages: the first one is $50 per person and begins at 7 p.m. with the awards presentation ceremony, entertainment by a well-known Jewish comedian, Mark Schiff, who has previously opened for Jerry Seinfeld, and a dessert buffet; the second package is $125 a person, begins at 5:30 p.m., and includes everything in the $50 package plus dinner.

While food is an important part of any celebration, the main focus for the members of NHBZ is the shul’s annual Man of the Year and Woman of Valor awards. This year’s recipients are Heiman “Herbie” Herbert Bremler and Bertha Gubernik Berman.

Bremler, a 97-year-old who emigrated from Germany because of Hitler and became an American soldier, is described by NHBZ leaders as the elder statesman of the synagogue.

He, along with Rabbi Borow, the rabbi emeritus, created the Shabbos of Learning program in the 1970s which has evolved into the current Lunch and Learn program which in turn inspired creating Synaplex Shabbat. Bremler, who is a past president of NHBZ, has been active at the synagogue for decades and has even written a formal history of it. “He’s a person who is involved,” said Menachem Szus, current congregation president, “especially in the area of educational programs.” Szus says Bremler has raised the level of adult learning through the programs he’s established. Abrams echoes Szus assessment. “Whenever we have a speaker,” Abrams said, “he’s the first one on his feet with questions that are always deep and related to the topic.”

Bremler’s journey to NHBZ began when he arrived in New York from Germany and couldn’t find a job because it was crowded with Jewish refugees as a result of Hitler taking over Austria. Heeding advice to go deeper into the U.S. because it didn’t have as many immigrants competing for jobs, he came to St. Louis and found employment as a furniture salesman. After serving his new country as a soldier, he returned to St. Louis where he met his wife and began his Jewish life here. As for receiving this honor, Bremler credits his parents, who were murdered by the Nazis, with instilling in him righteousness.

Berman is one of the synagogue’s top volunteers. “In addition to taking care of her family all her life, she’s always here to do what she can and she volunteers for other organizations,” Abrams said. Berman prepares, along with other volunteers, food for every Shabbat and she works on the Chesed Committee preparing food packages for needy families. “She has a heart about as three times the size of anybody,” Szus said. “Every single Friday when I get home there’s a phone message from her wishing my family a good Shabbos and I’m sure we’re not the only ones getting her message.” Not wanting to toot her own horn because “it takes away from volunteering by broadcasting it,” Berman said, she also volunteers at the JCC helping out where needed with such events as the Jewish Book Festival, used book sale, Senior Olympics and Tour de Fun. As a former officer for NA’AMAT, she also was an active volunteer. In addition to all her community contributions, which at one time included volunteering at Epstein Hebrew Academy, Berman has a full-time job taking care of her son, who is very ill, in her home.

Organizers are planning a happy, uplifting event. “We want people to have a really good time,” Francine Attoun, co-chair of the anniversary celebration said, “it’s going to be a big party with music by Tom Flynn, a one-man band who plays classic rock from the 1950s and 1960s, a wonderful banquet, a dessert soiree, that is parve, complete with a chocolate fountain, and a comedian.” The comedian, Mark Schiff, has appeared many times on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Late Night With David Letterman. Jerry Seinfeld says of him: “Mark Schiff is one of the funniest, the brightest, the best stage comics I have ever seen.” Joyce Kabak, co-chair with Attoun, says the evening will be jam-packed with music, food, fun and a raffle. “It’s going to be a magical evening,” Kabak said, “because as you enter, you’ll hear the musician playing and we’re going to have greeters at the doors to make everyone feel welcome and to help the elderly and disabled.”

The two different packages reflect the new approach organizers have taken in order to attract a variety of people. “If we want to be able to attract a wider audience to events such as this one, we have to enable a more affordable entrance fee,” Szus said. “We were one of the first synagogues to offer these formal dinners and now they’ve become so common and there are so many of them that if we don’t change something people will just become tired of them.”

The Vaad Hoeir-supervised kosher dinner will include such delicacies as Israeli kabobs, Greek moussaka, Hungarian chicken, chopped liver, stuffed eggplant and lots of vegetarian dishes. “People with dietary issues will find something to eat whether they are kashrut-observant or vegans or diabetic,” said Attoun. “We will have everything from chopped liver to halvah,” Kabak said. “I can’t see how everyone wouldn’t go away thinking they had a great evening.”