Jewish Listserv links community

Founders of the St. Louis Jewish Community Listserv are (from left) Barbara Ast, Debby Schuman, Jill Mirowitz Mogil and Faye Newman. Photo: Earl Newman

Founders of the St. Louis Jewish Community Listserv are (from left) Barbara Ast, Debby Schuman, Jill Mirowitz Mogil and Faye Newman. Photo: Earl Newman

David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Need a plumber? A driving instructor? A ride to Chicago? How about a pair of roller blades or a gently used keyboard?

Now it’s all in one location.

“Whenever I’ve posted anything, I’ve always gotten lots of responses,” said Debby Schuman. “I’m always tempted to ask other people, ‘Did you get responses? Did it work for you?’ Just going on the results that I’ve gotten, I have to imagine that it is successful.”

Schuman is one of the founders of the St. Louis Jewish Community Listserv. Now in its fourth year, the online initiative spearheaded by four University City women – Schuman, Barbara Ast, Faye Newman and Jill Mogil – provides a forum to link buyers with sellers, customers with service providers and those in need with those willing to give.

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“The way to energize a community is to form connections so that people can help each other,” said Ast.

The inspiration for the idea came from a similar effort in Teaneck, N.J. Now with about 600 members, the organization, which allows individuals to seek items or services from others, continues to grow.

“It was a way people could reach out to friends, neighbors, people they didn’t know in the Jewish community to help them,” Ast said. “We said ‘We should have this in St. Louis.'”

The ethos of the group comes from the experience of its creators. All four have extensive connections that give them a diverse set of vantage points on the community.

“We were all involved in different activities from the day schools to the synagogues to Torah MiTzion Kollel to Federation to JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council) to the Holocaust Museum,” Newman said. “We were all involved so we were connected in a sense to activities in the community.”

Typical listings cover items for sale or, in some instances, for free.

“A lot of people post about old appliances,” said Mogil, who said her sister gave away a dryer through the service. “They’ll say it’s on my lawn. It goes to whoever gets it first.”

People also commonly ask for rides to a given city or look for service providers such as repairmen, tutors or other professionals. Synagogues sometimes list upcoming events. Shiva notices are also posted. A surprisingly common listing comes from individuals seeking travelers willing to deliver a parcel to friends or family in Israel.

Some requests are more memorable than others. Schuman recalls that members have asked for items as unusual as a unicycle, a good pet insurance policy and home for a pet leopard gecko.

“Somebody else was wondering whether anyone else was attending the Jewish Motorcyclists Convention in Omaha,” Schuman said.

Advice and information can also be sought. Mogil said that a local rabbi posted to ask about the safety of travel to Dubai. Sometimes if a new brand of kosher food turns up at a local retail outlet, shoppers may pass the information along.

Other stories are downright heartwarming. Schuman recalls a woman who posted looking for altruistic kidney donors. Ast remembers an Israeli family coming to the United States who had rented a space with no furniture and posted on the listserv in search of help. They arrived to fully furnished quarters.

“When they came here, they had beds they could put their children into and go to sleep that night instead of coming to a cold, empty apartment,” Ast said. “We feel that’s what community is all about. It’s helping people who need help and reaching out to each other.”

Those who post must be members of the listserv. While they don’t necessarily need to be Jewish, they should have some connection to the community and must be approved by the founders. Businesses can list but only for special announcements of community relevance. Postings seeking dating arrangements are not accepted.

The four women say that limited access means users have a sense of security knowing that responses are from trusted sources in the community.

“We just want to make sure that if people are putting out questions like, ‘I’m looking for a babysitter’ that it’s not going out to the whole world,” Ast said. “It’s a safe environment of people who are involved in the Jewish community.”

Newman said that the listserv presents a real advantage over classified newspaper advertising because of its ability to be updated regularly and accessed quickly.

“Things change and people need things immediately,” she said. “As we’ve gone along, we do think that people feel a connection to this in terms of the utility.”

Mogil thinks that philosophy is paying off.

“That’s basically how it worked in Teaneck,” she said. “Over time it just grows and grows because people find it very helpful.”

The women sometimes employ the service for their own needs. Ast, co-president of Torah MiTzion Kollel, said she’s found it useful for her organization.

“We’ve never had to buy a new phone because people always donate their old ones,” she said. “Normally these old phones would just sit around in the bottom of a drawer somewhere.”

Schuman, who once found a roofer through the service, remembers a similar listserv when she lived in Efrat, Israel.

“We said ‘let’s do that and hopefully grow the community as a result,'” she said of the St. Louis listserv. “That was the intention of why we started it and it just kind of blossomed.”

The Jewish Community Listserv can be reached by email at [email protected]