Comensky leads B’nai Torah community


B’nai Torah spiritual leader Larry Comensky is an early riser — a really early riser. His normal day begins at 3 a.m., and he is at work by 6 a.m.

“I have been that way my entire adult life,” Comensky said. “I really enjoy mornings. I can have my coffee and read the newspaper in a leisurely way.”

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Comensky became a founding member of B’nai Torah when he was living in St. Charles in 1983. He was asked to join the effort to put together a Jewish congregation for the area. The new congregation was chartered in 1984.

Congregants asked Comensky to become resident hazzan after hearing him join in the singing of Kol Nidre at their first High Holiday services. Rabbi Jay Goldburg, a longtime community chaplain, served as the congregation’s first rabbi and after he left, they had some student rabbis.

“One thing was the same for all the visiting rabbis: they all wanted Larry on the bimah with them and to have him lead the congregation in the Hebrew melodies,” congregational president and founding member Jack Cohen said.

Then the congregation asked Comensky to become their spiritual leader.

“From the beginning of the founding of the congregation I have felt a part of something,” Comensky said. “When I chant, I feel God’s there singing through me.”

Today B’nai Torah has about 45 families. Comensky leads services on Friday nights, Shabbat mornings, holiday observances, High Holidays and conducts the congregational seder. He has done baby namings, memorial services and funerals, visited the sick and made visits to nursing homes.

“I can do everything but officiate at a wedding or bris,” Comensky said.

Hebrew came easily to Comensky who grew up in University City and belonged to Shaare Zedek. He admits going to Hebrew school and Sunday school only because it was expected of him. His bar mitzvah marked the end of his formal religious schooling, though he continued to attend services on the High Holy Days and observed the Jewish holidays.

Comensky became a self-taught Jewish adult and credits the many rabbis in his life over the years for enriching his life through mentoring and classes.

He has taken advantage of many learning opportunities in the St. Louis Jewish community including the Florence Melton Adult Mini School and events at Aish HaTorah.

“Adult education is where it is at today,” Comensky said. “We even have had a few adult b’nai mitzvah at B’nai Torah. It gives adults an opportunity to reaffirm their Judaism and deepen their relationship with God, community and Torah.”

It was at an adult learning opportunity where Comensky met his wife, Faith Schwartz Comensky. The two met informally at a book talk Rabbi Ze’ev Smason was doing at the Barnes & Noble Book Store in Ladue. Their formal introduction took place at a MatchBook event through Temple Israel. The couple has been married almost eight years.

“I love my wife, we are partners in life,” Comensky said. “Without her support, none of this would be possible. She keeps me going and is a very important part of my life.”

Faith remembers the first time she visited B’nai Torah when she and Larry were dating and saw him leading services.

“I was completely amazed,” Faith said. “It was so beautiful. There was so much warmth and caring in his service.”

She said people came up to him after the service to thank him.

“I could see they responded to him and the kids loved him,” Faith said.

Comensky encourages the children to be active participants in the service. He lets the parents know it is okay if their children are singing, laughing, clapping and dancing. It is actually a tradition at the congregation for the children to go up to the bimah and dance with Comensky when he sings V’Shamru.

“One of the most wonderful things about Larry is his true joy for the Sabbath,” Cohen said. “Whenever he sings V’Shamru, it is with such joy and happiness. It is a pleasure for everyone watching to see the children go up and dance with Larry. It clearly doubles his joy as well.”

It’s about everyone being an integral part of the congregational community, said Comensky.

“Our members feel a part of — not apart from — our congregational family,” Comensky said. “Our students graduate into — not out of — Judaism. It is a vital part of all our lives.”

Comensky’s love of the congregation and its members is evident. He has a full-time job in the automotive industry, along with being the spiritual leader of B’nai Torah. Having two jobs can be very wearing on some days, said Faith.

“But even when he is tired, Larry always comes alive when he is serving the congregation and its members,” Faith said. “What he gives to the congregation goes beyond words. His warmth, love and caring always comes shining through.”