Longtime TI rabbi ready for transition to emeritus status

Rabbi Mark L. Shook, Emeritus


Rabbi Mark L. Shook is saying goodbye – goodbye to congregants, goodbye to office colleagues, goodbye to well-wishers all over town. On July 1, Shook will retire from his post as senior rabbi at Congregation Temple Israel, #1 Alvan D. Rubin Drive in Creve Coeur. He has had the job since 1987. 

Even as Shook says goodbye, he is saying hello to the greatest gift of retirement-being in charge of your own time. “They have named me rabbi emeritus, and will provide an office in another part of the building, an office that is not at the center of power – but I won’t be here every day,” he says, “and that’s fine.”

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Shook looks forward to the transition. “A congregation’s expectations for rabbis means that rabbis never get a vacation,” says Shook, 64. “If you do leave, you always have the feeling that something bad will happen and you will have to rush back. I won’t miss that. If you do miss something, people understand, but you feel guilty. I’m tired of that feeling. And I will not miss going to meetings.”

At this point, he is uncertain about what his rabbinical duties may include. “I don’t know,” he says, “but I do know that rabbi was the job I wanted all along-this job, here, at this place,” he says, pointing at his desk. “My first visit to St. Louis was a family wedding at Temple Israel. I was 19. When I saw this place, I remember thinking it would be a great place to be a rabbi.” It was a cantor who suggested to Shook when he was in high school that he consider becoming a rabbi. “This has been a dream job. Of course, I’ve had a wonderful work experience because I’ve had a wonderful congregation.”

Shook first came to Temple Israel in 1972 as an assistant rabbi and later, he served as associate rabbi. In 1980, he left for Congregation Beth Israel in Margate, N.J., a suburb of Atlantic City. Temple Israel brought him back in 1987. A native of Detroit, Shook and his wife, Carol, live in Creve Coeur. They have two children, Jeremy and Amy, and four grandchildren.

In his time here, Shook has made an impression on many, many people. “I’ve known Rabbi Shook since 1972, when he made his first tour of duty here,” says Cary Mogerman, a past president at Temple Israel. “I have always been impressed by his ability to articulate a clear vision of our obligations and responsibilities as Jews and as people of faith. I am also impressed by his interest in and dialogue with the interfaith community, and his compassion for all people.”

Since returning to St. Louis, Shook has served as a member of the Ethics Commission for the City of Creve Coeur and president of the Reform Rabbis of St. Louis. He has represented the Union of American Hebrew Congregations at Pathways to Promise: Interfaith Ministries and Prolonged Mental Illness, an interfaith consortium. Shook was elected to the national board of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the board of the St. Louis Jewish Light. He also has served as a chaplain with the St. Louis County Police Department and the Creve Coeur Police Department.

In 1995, Ranken Jordan Home for Crippled Children elected Shook to its board of trustees, and in 2000, he was elected president. When the institution became a pediatric specialty hospital in 2003, Shook was named chairman of the board. He now serves on the executive committee and as member-at-large on the board.

“Rabbi Shook was my direct supervisor for 11 years,” says Laureen Tanner, president and CEO of the 34-bed hospital at 11365 Dorsett Road in Maryland Heights. “He is a fantastic leader. He helped us through hard times, helped us continue to aspire to get to where the hospital is today.”

In addition to Shook’s leadership qualities, Tanner values his sense of humor. “I call him ‘Rabs.’ He asked me to,” says Tanner, laughing. “I’m Irish and Catholic. When I had surgery, Rabs called my home to check on me. My brother answered the phone, and told him I was sleeping. ‘Tell her that her rabbi called,’ Rabs told my brother. He put down the phone, turned to mom and asked her if she knew I had a rabbi. When I woke up, I assured both of them that I do indeed have a rabbi-a giving, caring, loving person.”

In acknowledgement of one of Shook’s abiding interests, Ranken Jordan has honored him with an interfaith chapel in his name at the hospital. In spring 1996, Rabbi Shook was elected to the board of the Interfaith Partnership of Metropolitan St. Louis, and he served as chair of the organization’s cabinet for two years. In 1999, Shook co-founded Faith Beyond Walls, a volunteer initiative highlighted by the Vatican during the visit of Pope John Paul II to St. Louis.

Since 1992, Shook has taught courses in Jewish Thought two days a week at St. Louis University, and he will continue that after retirement. He also will continue his work with the St. Louis County Police Department and the Creve Coeur Police Department. His interest in the work first developed when he served “a short stint” as an auxiliary chaplain in the Air Force.

Shook’s work in and outside the congregation has brought him much pleasure. “The different hats you wear – like a jigsaw puzzle, it all fits, and each piece is unique. Everything has paid dividends. There is nothing I have gotten involved in that has not benefited the congregation as well as me,” he says. “I’ve always said my job was great because I’ve never done the same thing two days in a row – and that makes me better at my job.”

Over the years, the biggest changes Shook has seen concern how congregations identify the role of the senior rabbi. “We are moving faster and farther away from the corporate CEO model,” he says. “More and more, large congregations see the rabbi not as a CEO but as someone who is above the fray. Lay people manage and operate the place. The rabbi is there to inspire, to teach, to console and consult.” He pauses. “I had 400 families in my congregation in New Jersey, and at the end of each day, I turned out the lights and locked the door.”

Once he retires, Shook will spend more time with his family. At the age of 50, Shook took up golf, and he looks forward to more time on the green. He also will continue work on a novel he started writing last August. Shook describes the book as the Jewish version of “The DaVinci Code.”

“This is the novel I was meant to write,” he says with great enthusiasm. “All these years, I’ve taught Bible study class on Saturday at the Temple, and my class at St. Louis University also follows a Biblical thread. For 10 years, I’ve been doing commentary for KWMU Radio, and I’ve discovered that having to say something significant in 90 seconds is a phenomenal writing discipline. All these projects have helped me become a better writer.”

Dr. David Weinstein, president of the congregation, expresses admiration for Shook’s many talents. “To me, Mark Shook is a true Renaissance Man,” says Weinstein. “There is a dichotomy between his vast knowledge about so many subjects and his passion for teaching others-and the humility that he possesses contrasts with his wonderful sense of humor. All this demonstrates the great depth of his character.”

Weinstein continues, “Mark would have been successful in any field he chose, and we are really fortunate that he chose the rabbinate. Over the years, he has represented our congregation well.”


A ReMarkable Weekend

WHAT: Events honoring Rabbi Mark L. Shook upon his retirement

WHEN: June 4-5

WHERE: On June 4, a special Shabbat service and celebratory Oneg Shabbat reception at 7:30 p.m. at Temple Israel. On June 5, a gala dinner at 6 p.m. at the Hilton St. Louis Frontenac Hotel with keynote speaker Rabbi David Saperstein.

HOW MUCH: $125 per person for the June 5 dinner and program

RESERVATIONS: 314-432-8050