Honoring the past with vision of the future

It was 1908 when a group of Austrian and Hungarian Jews led by a Mr. I. Rossman organized a Conservative Jewish congregation in St. Louis and called it Brith Sholom. In 1910, Rabbi Adolph A. Rosentreter (Phyllis Dubinsky’s grandfather) came to Brith Sholom as the shul’s spiritual leader and continued until his death in 1930. Two years prior the congregation had purchased a building at 6616 Delmar and two years later established a Hebrew school under the leadership of School Principal Jacob M. Elbaum, an amazing man who served his congregation in that capacity for 56 years. On June 1, 1930, Rabbi Jacob R. Mazur became the rabbi of Brith Sholom where he continued until his death in 1959.

In the early 1940’s, Jewish merchants along the wholesale garment district on Washington Avenue organized a daily minyan in a small office space in the area. Eventually that became congregation Kneseth Israel and, led by Nolan DeWoskin, it relocated to Rosebury in Clayton and later to South Hanley with Rabbi Sholom Rivkin as the spiritual leader until its merger with Brith Sholom in 1959. Now known as Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel, the merged congregation moved to its present location on Linden Avenue in Richmond Heights under the leadership of Rabbi Benson Skoff who was succeeded in 1991 by its current rabbi, Mordecai Miller.

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So much for the history lesson. Fast forward to 2008.

On Sunday, Sept. 7 at BSKI, the congregation will celebrate its 100th anniversary at a gala event. In keeping with the theme of “honoring the past with a vision for the future,” the honorees will be the past presidents of the merged congregations. Serving as honorary chairpersons are Bonnie and Phil Levens, Naomi and Saul Silvermintz (she is the daughter of the beloved Rabbi Mazur) and Rabbi Benson Skoff all of whom, according to co-chair of the gala Susan Cort “have provided outstanding leadership and commitment to the congregation.”

The celebration will take place at BSKI beginning at 5:30 p.m. with a reception and dinner for sponsors and patrons to be followed at 7:30 p.m. by a program honoring past presidents; a comedy presentation by hilariously funny comedian Joel Chasnoff; and concluding with a dessert buffet. Planned by Susan, her co-chair Marcia Sokol-Anderson and a huge committee, this will be a fun-filled evening of memories, fantastic foods, great company and a celebration of the past 100 years of BSKI. The dinner menu, I was told, will feature food popular from the past century such as Old Country foods from Hungary and Eastern Europe, with a bit of a modern twist emphasizing Israeli and Mediterranean dishes and today’s international favorites. When I asked Susan what the dishes of the past would be, she said “You know, comfort foods from past generations.”

Joel Chasnoff (no relation to the local Chasnoff family as closely as I have ascertained) is described as the Jewish comedian who’s redefining Jewish comedy. His act is based on real Judaism and Jewish experiences — such as his nine years in Jewish Day School, his service in the Israeli Defense Forces, and family Shabbat dinners. His resume is daunting as he has entertained in seven countries around the globe at some of the world’s premier comedy venues as well as countless synagogues, colleges and clubs in the U.S. A portion of all revenue from Joel’s performances and sales of his CD Hanukah Guilt is donated to charities promoting humanitarian causes.

Guests may purchase tickets for $125, which will include dinner, reserved seats for the entertainment and the dessert reception or, they may opt for only the entertainment and dessert for $35. Since this is a fundraiser for the future of the congregation, members are asked to become sponsors at levels ranging from $1,000 to $500. In any event, to make your reservation call BSKI at 314-725-6230 or send your check to BSKI, 1107 Linden, St. Louis MO 63117.