Newly merged, synagogue ponders future of campuses

The process of merging Shaare Zedek Synagogue and Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel made a number of headlines this year. In September, the congregations voted to merge. In December, they announced the new, merged congregation would be named Kol Rinah (Voice of Joy). File photos: Lyubov Strauss. 

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

The St. Louis area’s newest synagogue has decided upon a home — at least for the time being.

Kol Rinah, the new entity created from the merging of Shaare Zedek Synagogue and Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel, will be housed on the Shaare Zedek campus in University City for the immediate future. A permanent location remains to be determined.

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BSKI’s campus on Linden Avenue will remain active until after the religious school year is concluded.

“Classes are already going and we don’t want to inconvenience our faculty, staff, children and families,” said Kol Rinah president Sue Cort. “When we move over to the Hanley campus short-term, the facilities there can accommodate the religious school as well.”

Leadership stressed that the move is temporary and would ideally last for the next three to five years.

“The desired long-term location for Kol Rinah is not to be the Hanley location,” said a media release from the congregation. “The final location of Kol Rinah is dependent upon market conditions, the availability of alternative sites, and the ability to raise funds for the location and construction.”

The release noted that the facilities committee and board would be looking at more than one long-term option for housing the congregation, which is presently in the creation stages after a vote last fall expressing overwhelming support for the joining. The board has approved funding for both programming and master planning studies to be used in support of any long-term decision.

The congregations are already holding joint Shabbat services and minyans at one location or the other, a process that has been going on since January. The final shift to Shaare Zedek will not take place before Yom Kippur though Gary Kodner, chair of the communications committee, said various administrative functions may move over the summer.

The ultimate fate of the BSKI facility remains unknown.

“We own the property,” said Cort. “It will stay in our hands. It will be a Kol Rinah property. We have several options that are being researched for long-term use. There’s no definite decision because it is going to requireresearch and information gathering.”

The release said that the BSKI structure will remain a possible site for a long-term location and that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services will be held there this year.

It noted that it was cheaper to keep only one site active and that the Linden building would be shut down as much as possible after the High Holidays relocation.

Kodner said that the decision was the right one to make.

“The choice is a realistic one that is supported by data, supported by facts,” he said. “We had a really strong committee that looked into the possibilities in terms of our current facilities and what might be available in terms of a third site.”

Kodner said that ideally the new congregation would have a new home but that any revamp, relocation or construction would take time, planning and a capital raise.

“What we’d really like to do as a congregation is to have a new space,” he said. “Whether that is renovating one of the current spaces or building a whole new building somewhere else, that’s what we’re going to spend the next three years exploring. But you’ve got to live somewhere. In the meantime, it’s important that we live together or we aren’t really a merged congregation.”

Cort said no decisions on rabbinic matters or staffing issues for the new entity have been reached as of yet.

At this point, the congregations are not yet completely joined as the legalities continue to be worked out.

“It will be finished,” said Cort. “We just don’t know the exact date.”