For first time in 20 years, St. Peters synagogue will have rabbi leading services

Rabbi Dale Schreiber

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

St. Charles County’s largest synagogue has brought an ordained rabbi onboard for the first time in two decades.

Rabbi Dale Schreiber has agreed to join the organization on a part-time basis leading its once-a-month services and tending to other rabbinic duties.

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“I think what our hopes are is to build a relationship that helps infuse B’nai Torah with a greater sense of its own mission in connecting to the community that it serves as well as developing a deeper appreciation for the way in which Judaism provides for ritual life,” Schreiber said.

Ordained in 2008 by ALEPH, a Jewish Renewal group, Schreiber, 62, has played a number of roles in the St. Louis Jewish community. A member of Central Reform Congregation since 1986, the Rochester, N.Y. native served as director of education and an executive board member of CRC. She has also chaired the Central Agency for Jewish Education’s Educator Council, was a founding executive board member of the Saul Mirowitz Day School – Reform Jewish Academy, and served as program director at Temple Emanuel. Her student pulpit was at a congregation across the Mississippi in Belleville, Ill., where she spent eight years.

She has a master’s degree in audiology from State University of New York at Buffalo and spent 20 years in that field in California.

Her primary recent work has been as a chaplain at Barnes-Jewish Hospital where she has been for nine years. She said she will continue her part-time duties there.

Founded in 1984, B’nai Torah has not had a rabbinic presence since a few years after its creation, when Jay Goldburg, a part-time rabbi stopped serving there. Since then, it has been directed by spiritual leader Larry Comensky, a founding member who had served in a cantorial role during Goldburg’s time.

Schreiber arrives during a period of adjustment at the small Reform synagogue, which was rocked last year by the departure of about 10 families and two-thirds of the temple board who founded their own house of worship, Ahavat Shalom. B’nai Torah now has about 29 families.

Jack Cohen, president of B’nai Torah said a desire to attract new faces was a key reason the temple was looking for a rabbi.

“I feel that was our response to what was potentially a problem for B’nai Torah losing the members that we did,” he said. “So far, it’s working. The members that we have are thrilled with the rabbi. We have new members and I expect the future of B’nai Torah to be very promising and positive.”

Cohen said the rabbi’s contract is verbal with no specific time commitment.

Schreiber said she had been approached with the idea a few months ago.

“At that time I was chairing a national rabbinic association conference and there were a lot of things on my plate,” she said. “I told them that I did not know if I was the best resource for them. They called again and said ‘Could we meet for lunch?'”

That lunch led to an agreement for Schreiber to lead a few services starting in November. Cohen said he and the two other attendees had been very impressed.

“The three of us left the meeting with the rabbi and felt, ‘Wow, this was the perfect fit,'” he said. “I even said it was a match made in heaven. I still feel that way.”

In early January, the decision was made official with a vote of the congregation who unanimously agreed on Schreiber for the job.

Cohen said B’nai Torah does not plan to expand its monthly services but does hope to switch out some Friday nights on the schedule for Saturday mornings. Previously, the temple only held Saturday services for special events such as bar or bat mitzvahs. He also said the congregation may add an “Ask the Rabbi” section to its newsletter.

New teaching initiatives may be in the offing as well.

“We decided we’d have some ‘lunch and learns’ when we have Saturday morning services,” he said. “That was her suggestion, that we use the Saturday morning services as an opportunity since people will be there and those that want to will remain for the educational program.”

But he hopes the main difference will be in a boost to membership. He said of the four families that recently joined B’nai Torah, at least two spoke of Schreiber as a factor.

“I think there is a new mindset,” he said. “She is an ordained rabbi and potential new members sometimes prefer to affiliate with a synagogue that does have an ordained rabbi.”

Cohen said Comensky led his final service on Friday when he was honored with a plaque commemorating his role at the synagogue and granting he and his wife lifetime membership to the institution.

“Larry was very supportive of our finding this replacement,” Cohen said. “He’s spoken and met with her several times and he also feels that this will help B’nai Torah attract new members.”

Meanwhile, Schreiber said she’s enthusiastic based on her interactions with congregants. She said her conversations with temple leadership seemed to indicate they are on the same page.

“I asked what did the word ‘rabbi’ mean to them,” she said. “They said ‘teacher, friend, companion.’ It was all the right stuff. I think those are expectations that I know I can fulfill.”

She called B’nai Torah an “oasis” for its members and said it’s clear they have a strong commitment to the organization.

“There’s one member who drives in with his children from an hour away,” she said. “I think people who are making those kinds of choices have decided that Judaism is really important to them. Because B’nai Torah is there, they get to come.”