Looking back at 2009

As newspaper editors, we have a love-hate relationship with “Year in Review” stories. Sure, they are a bit clich é. But on the other hand, they offer a chance to reflect on the community’s collective history before embarking on a new year. Besides, 2009 was in many ways a year that deserves summarizing.

The economic downturn gave Jewish community institutions new challenges; the community lost major philanthropists; state politics were rocked by a scandal embroiling two local Jewish legislators. However, the news wasn’t all gloomy — the Jewish Community Center began a new chapter with its Staenberg Family Complex; the Jewish community showed its ability to stand together to support Israel during the Gaza offensive — and its ability to unite for community resources during LightFest.

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Anat Cohen at The Sheldon


Here’s a recap of some of the top local stories of 2009:

January

* Saul Mirowitz dies — St. Louis lost one of its major Jewish community benefactors when Saul Mirowitz passed away Jan. 4, 2009 at the age of 82. Mirowitz was longtime board chairman (and co-founder) of Delmar Financial Co. and founder, major benefactor — and namesake — of the Saul Mirowitz Day School – Reform Jewish Academy. His community involvement included leadership roles at the St. Louis Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith, the Jewish Light and the local chapter of American Society for Technion and was founding member and past president of Traditional Congregation.

* Israel support — While Israel was engaged in its three-week offensive in Gaza, Young Israel of St. Louis welcomed the community Jan. 4 for tehillim, prayer, for Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces. Four days later, a large community contingent of close to 1,000 people turned out to listen to then-Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, U.S. Sen. Jim Talent and a host of state legislators and Jewish community leaders.

* Jewish legislators sworn in — At the beginning of the year, it looked like “the Jewish caucus” was finally arriving in the state legislature. St. Louis-area Reps. Jill Schupp and Steve Brown were sworn in, along with Jason Kander from the Kansas City area. They joined two state representatives already serving (Reps. Jake Zimmerman and Rachel Storch), and one state senator, Jeff Smith. “We almost have a minyan,” Rep. Zimmerman told the Democratic caucus in 2008. However, by late August, Smith and Brown would plead guilty to obstructing justice in a federal investigation related to Smith’s unsuccessful run for Congress in 2004.

February

* Chabad dedicates new Torah — In May, 2008 Rabbi Yosef Landa opened the ark during Shabbat services at Bais Menachem — Chabad of Greater St. Louis, only to find that the congregation’s Torah had been stolen. Although the Torah is still missing, Chabad had reason to celebrate in February when it was able to dedicate a new Torah. A Torah scribe came to write the final words of the Torah, before the eyes of a crowd filling Chabad’s Lazaroff Center in University City. Afterwards, the crowd spilled out onto Delmar Boulevard for a celebratory procession.

* Hadassah chapter cutbacks — In the wake of a $90 million loss from the Madoff scandal and the general economic downturn, the national Hadassah organization laid off 80 people nationwide in a restructuring of the agency. St. Louis Chapter Hadassah announced in early February that it lost two full-time staffers to the layoffs and found national funding withdrawn for the chapter’s local office space. The local chapter would move to a more-volunteer based structure, maintaining a local office with one part-time employee.

* Jimmy Carter visits — Since the release of his 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, former President Jimmy Carter has become a familiar target of criticism from Jews around the globe over the tone (and title) of the book. While there is debate over whether his latest book, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land, is biased against Israel, the former president drew hundreds to stand in line at the downtown Left Bank Books location.

March

* Clayton graffiti threat — Graffiti scrawled in pencil in a Clayton High School bathroom threatening violence the next day against African-Americans and Jews put the school on high alert in March. The school’s administrators worked with Clayton police to increase security. Although some students elected to stay home, the day went without incident.

April

* Birkat Hachamah — Once every 28 years, Jews can celebrate Birkat Hachamah, the “Blessing of the Sun.” The event marks the day the sun returns to the same position, on the same day of the week where it was when it was created — on the fourth day of creation. All across the world on April 8, Jews gathered outdoors to face the sun and recite the blessing and sun-related Biblical texts. In St. Louis, many Jews gathered in University City at the former McNair School field for the morning blessings organized by the Rabbinical Council. Some CRC members met for a sunrise blessing at the St. Louis Art Museum. Those who missed it will have a bit of a wait — the next occurrence is April 8, 2037.

* Neo-Nazis under the Arch/Peace rally in the park — While 70 members of the American Nazi Party demonstrated under the Arch (amidst an estimated 200 counterprotestors) April 18, the Anti-Defamation League held a peace rally miles away in front of the St. Louis Art Museum. Local politicians, faith and community leaders turned out for the “Rally for Respect,” which the ADL said was to show support for diversity.

May

* New Staenberg Family Complex — The Jewish Community Center opened its $23 million Staenberg Family Complex in Creve Coeur. The JCC welcomed Gov. Jay Nixon, philanthropist I.E. Millstone, and the building’s namesake, the Staenberg family, among other dignitaries, to the building’s grand opening.

* I.E. Millstone — The community mourned the loss of I.E. Millstone, the “Patriarch” of the St. Louis Jewish Community, after he went missing May 16, when he was reported to have jumped from the Daniel Boone Bridge into the Missouri River. On May 31, hundreds gathered at United Hebrew to remember Millstone’s life and his contributions to Jewish and secular institutions.

* 1st. Lt. Roslyn Schulte — About 1,300 people attended the funeral at Temple Israel of Air Force 1st Lt. Roslyn Schulte, who was killed May 20 by a roadside bomb near Kabul, Afghanistan. Schulte grew up in St. Louis, and was confirmed at Temple Israel.

June

* Camp Sabra closed due to H1N1 — H1N1(Swine Flu) forced Camp Sabra in Lake of the Ozarks to shut down for a week. One camper and one staffer had confirmed cases, but more than 40 percent of the 350 campers showed flu-like symptoms.

* Film Festival — The Jewish Community Center’s 14th annual St. Louis Jewish Film Festival featured 17 films, including dramas, documentaries, comedies and family films from all over the world.

July

* New rabbi for Temple Emanuel–Temple Emanuel voted in May to hire Rabbi Justin Kerber, who began effective July 1. Kerber had served as director of Hillel at the University of Georgia.

* Annual campaign decline — Many local Jewish agencies reported a decline in funds when they received official notification of their 2009-2010 allocations from the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. The Federation announced an overall cut in core allocations of about 6.4 percent for the local agencies it supports. The downturn economy was to blame for the cuts, JFed officials said.

* Washington University coach dies — Lynn Immergoot, described as the “winningest coach in Washington University history” and a member of the St. Louis Jewish Hall of Fame, died in a car accident in Glen Spey, N.Y.

* Cedars at the JCA — The Eastern Missouri appellate court ruled in favor of the Jewish Center for the Aged in its trial seeking an injunction to prevent PAMI, the mortgage holder of the Cedars at the JCA, a 252-bed senior care facility in Town and Country, from foreclosing on the facility without first giving the JCA the ability to purchase the mortgage note.

August

* Political resignations — State Sen. Jeff Smith and State Rep. Steve Brown, both pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to obstruct justice and announced their resignations from office. Smith and Brown admitted that they lied to federal investigators about their involvement in a smear campaign against fellow Democrat Russ Carnahan.

September

* New Hillel director — St. Louis Hillel names Jacqueline “Jackie” Ulin Levey as its new executive director. The appointment came on the heels of the resignation of Michael Landy, who had served in the post for only one year.

* Reform/Orthodox partnership — Block Yeshiva High School, an Orthodox School, found a home for its classes at Congregtion Shaare Emeth, a Reform temple.

* New JFed President — Sanford Neuman was installed as the 38th President of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, replacing Shelia Greenbaum, outgoing president. Neuman is the chair and founding partner of the law firm Gallop, Johnson & Neuman.

* Shir Hadash hires new rabbi — Rabbi Lane Steinger was selected by Shir Hadash Reconstructionist Community to be the congregation’s new rabbi.

October

* BSKI rabbi’s milestone — Rabbi Benson Skoff celebrated 50 years at Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel.

* Kosher in Chesterfield — VegaDeli in Chesterfield offers another kosher dining option in the St. Louis area.

November

* Smith sentenced — Former state Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for improper activities during his unsuccessful run for Congress in 2004. He was also fined $50,000. Smith pleaded guilty to two felony counts of obstruction to justice.

* Book Festival — The 31st annual St. Louis Jewish Book Festival was deemed a huge success and featured more than 30 authors including Helen Hunt, HBO’s Susie Essman, Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, Peter Yarrow, A.J. Jacobs and many others.

December

* Elie Wiesel — Elie Wiesel drew a record crowd at St. Louis University. More than 1,800 people showed up to hear the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor speak at SLU’s Wool Ballroom, where there was standing room only. An additional auditorium was also filled to capacity with visitors watching a live video feed of Wiesel’s talk.

* Archbishop welcomed — Jewish leaders welcomed Archbishop Robert Carlson, who assured them of his willingness to work with the Jewish community and make the world a better place.

* LightFest — LightFest took place at the JCC Staenberg Complex, drawing more than 3,300 participants and raising more than $200,000 for the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, including $139,785 for the Annual Community Campaign and more than $62,000 for the Lifeline Fund.