New Chabad center now open in Central West End

Rabbi Yossi Abenson (right), co-director of Chabad of Central West End, celebrates Purim on March 20 at Café Ventana. 

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

After 18 years in University City, Hillel Kieval and Deborah Katz moved in August to the Central West End.

The couple, who both work at Washington University, liked the idea of having a condo more centrally located in the city, said Kieval, a Jewish Studies professor. 

But the move also meant they were further from their Modern Orthodox synagogue, Bais Abraham Congregation, and from grocery stores that stocked kosher meat. 

So Kieval was pleased to meet Rabbi Yossi Abenson, who along with his wife, Goldie, recently established a Chabad center in the Central West End.

The Hasidic Jewish outreach organization aims to provide Shabbat meals, minyans for services, Jewish programming and access to kosher food.

In short, the Abensons would like to strengthen the Jewish footprint in the city. 

“Having them around is fun and convenient and it will make it a little less alienating to be in the Central West End,” said Kieval, 68, who prefers not to drive on Shabbat but will remain a member of Bais Abraham. 

Rabbi Yosef Landa, director of Chabad of Greater St. Louis, said the organization decided to establish a center in the Central West End because an increasing number of Jews were returning to the city following the exodus to the suburbs over the second half of the last century.

In addition to Chabad, a group of Jewish millennials last year opened a Jewish center, MaTovu, in a former synagogue in the Botanical Heights neighborhood of south St. Louis. 

Landa’s “vision very much was in response to the growing population and life and community in the Central West End and the city, and we see that there is Jewish life there as well, as is evidenced by MaTovu, and he wants us to come in on the ground floor,” said Abenson, 26.

The rabbi is originally from Manchester, England and moved to St. Louis in October. He and his wife are hosting Shabbat meals and classes at their home near the intersection of Newstead and Boyle avenues. They hope to eventually open a separate center.

“A lot of what we do all day is meet people for coffee dates or at their houses, just to get a sense of what they are looking for, if they are interested in studying, if they want a mezuzah put up, if they want to put on tefillin. We are here to provide them with that Jewish experience,” said Abenson.

He has also been in contact with the Straub’s grocery store in the neighborhood about supplying kosher sandwiches and raw meat and poultry. Abenson hopes they will start selling the items in the next few weeks and said he plans to set up a table inside the store to promote the offerings. 

Kieval currently has to either get his kosher meat from Kohn’s Kosher Deli, the Schnucks at Ladue Crossing or from an online distributor, so having an option just down the street “is great,” he said. 

The Chabad center also recently hosted a networking event for Jewish young professionals in the Cortex business district.

Elisa Barrack, a speech therapist, moved to the Central West End almost two years ago after doing clinical training in the area. She became involved with JGrads, a Chabad program for local Jewish graduate students, and found a connection to other Jews that had been missing elsewhere, she said.

“I have always been really interested in Judaism and learning about it, and Chabad has given me the resources and friends to be connected with Judaism,” said Barrack, 27, who grew up in Memphis and attended a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school.

She has eaten Shabbat dinners at the Abensons’ home and said “I always leave feeling like I learned something new and that spark of feeling a little bit more connected to my Judaism.”

Of their presence in the Central West End, she said, “I think it will give young professionals a sense of community, and I think a lot of people are looking for that.”

For more information about Chabad of Central West End, email [email protected] or call 314-448-0927.