Neve Shalom moves to new location inside Covenant/CHAI

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Decked out in a blue hat, gray sport coat and suspenders, Rabbi James Stone Goodman makes a handsome sight as he recites poetry in the Royal Dining Room for dozens of seniors at Covenant House/CHAI Apartments.

“Backwards we are telling the story,” he intones rhythmically before returning to play his oud, a lute-like instrument thought to date back to the ancient Middle East. “Elijah standing on a street corner/He asks for a match/Fire, he said, as well as light/Some specially created light/Festival of lights/The kind of light that burns.”

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The residents in attendance seem to enjoy the blend of prose and jazzy klezmer music, a rehearsal of a later show Goodman will be putting on with Brothers Lazaroff and the Klezmer Conspiracy. Some even get up for a lively dance in the back of the room.

They may be getting a lot more chances to kick up their heels. After all, Goodman’s congregation, Neve Shalom, isn’t just visiting. It’s now a tenant. The synagogue relocated to Covenant late last month after leaving quarters at the Rainbow Village on Dautel, which it had called home for more than a decade.

“We’re thrilled,” said 15-year Neve Shalom congregant Elaine Levine, a Creve Coeur resident who helped with the previous week’s move. “It is such a win-win situation. It’s great for the congregation and I think it’s going to be great for the people who live here because they are going to be able to participate in things like this concert without even leaving their home.”

In some ways, Neve Shalom’s new digs are the natural result of a deepening relationship that’s been germinating between the synagogue and the apartment complex since last year when Goodman stopped in to lead High Holiday services. That initial contact blossomed into regular visits by parents and children from the congregation to hold services and hear stories about the past from residents. Other events included seders, concerts and even a bar mitzvah.

“They started going over to the Covenant House because there were so many interesting people there and it worked well with the kids learning,” said Goodman. “Covenant finally said, ‘Well, why don’t you bring all your stuff over here?’”

And so they did. The arrangement seemed to make sense on both ends.

“They are not just a tenant,” said Joan Denison, executive director of the complex. “They are really bringing so much additional feeling of Jewish community for our residents.”

Denison said Neve Shalom signed a two-year sublease for a three-room spread that had previously been home to Block Yeshiva High School and, before that, the Jewish Community Center Older Adult Program. Now the space will play host to the congregation’s Friday night services. Goodman will also lead Saturday services twice a month and Friday services once a month in the Royal Dining Room. Residents are invited to all events.

The space is subleased through the Jewish Federation. Neither Goodman nor Denison could immediately recall the square footage involved in the deal.

Goodman said that the Covenant facility is more centrally located than Neve Shalom’s previous home and he looks forward to interacting even more with residents. However, he doesn’t necessarily expect the move to boost membership in the small congregation, which has about 70 families — though it often serves more than that number through events and services.

Still, it will provide more chances for them to participate in services. Residents seem to be responding positively.

“It’s terrific,” said Geraldine Zucol, a five-year resident at Covenant. “I don’t attend any synagogue or temple very often but since Rabbi Goodman is going to be here, I think I’ll attend when he is here. I enjoy when he talks and does the Sabbath.”

Resident Evelyn Kleiman said she also looks forward to the partnership. She’s enjoyed having the periodic congregant visits for storytelling sessions.

“The connections have been wonderful,” she said. “Young people want to know what us oldsters thought and did when we were young.”

Neve Shalom congregant Stephen Mandel said he was always happy to tap into the wisdom of the residents during discussions while events like the concert were a benefit as well.

“I’m delighted,” he said. “Just sitting here in the back and watching the seniors get involved in the music and see it lift their spirits and they are dancing. It’s such a mitzvah to bring the generations together.”

Denison said the relocation will be a boon to the Jewish community.

“Anyone who wants to find a Saturday morning service close by or come for Shabbat dinner or Friday night services, they know that this is a place where they can come,” she said.

Levine said the benefit of the move was clear in a different way as well.

“Somebody said to me the other day that what was so good about this is that we are now in a Jewish building,” she said. “Our whole surroundings, our soul, is now in a Jewish building. That’s a neat thing.”