NHBZ celebrates 102nd anniversary


Nusach Hari B’nai Zion’s (NHBZ) evening of celebrating its 102nd anniversary this past Sunday at the Crowne Plaza St. Louis — Clayton began with background music of classic rock and a gastronomical tour around the world. With buffet tables filled with eggplant, shish kabobs, salads, potato knishes and eggrolls, the attendees had plenty of variety from which to choose. And while food is always important at events such as these, the international buffet was only the beginning of the evening.

The main event of the celebration was presenting the Man of the Year and Eishes Chayil (Woman of Valor) awards to Heiman Herbert Bremler and Bertha Berman, respectively. After dinner, Rebbetzin Chani Smason introduced Berman. Berman was selected for the honor based on her tireless volunteering at NHBZ and in the community. From her work on the shul’s Kiddush Patrol to volunteering for Pioneer Women/NA’AMAT, Red Cross blood drives, and events at the JCC, Berman is constantly giving of herself to the community. She graciously thanked her relatives and friends who came in from various parts of the Midwest to share the evening with her.

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Rabbi Ze’ev Smason introduced award recipient Bremler. The 97-year-old elder statesman of NHBZ told a moving story from his childhood when he was living in Germany just after World War I.

“We were hungry school children and one day, these Americans came to the school with food. They were Quakers,” Bremler said. “I asked one of them how to say ‘danke schein’ in English. The man said ‘Thank you. And remember these are the best words in the English language.’ So tonight, I say ‘thank you’ to you.”

After the presentations, Michael Grafman, entertainment chair, introduced the comedian headliner Mark Schiff. Schiff immediately won over the crowd by commenting on the display of 25 Christmas trees (being auctioned off for the Judevine Center for Autism) in the hotel’s lobby.

“In honor of this Jewish event, the hotel put as many Christmas trees as possible in the lobby,” he said. Schiff gave his humorous opinion on everything from marriage to parenting to exercising to mobile homes.

“My uncle lived in a trailer park. An earthquake hit it and a hundred mobile homes were destroyed. The earthquake caused $60 worth of damage.” Schiff had the 200 attendees laughing non-stop throughout his entire act.

In order to open the event to more people, organizers had decided to offer two packages: One included the award presentations, the comedian, and dessert buffet. The other package added dinner to the mix. Synagogue president Menachem Szus was pleased with the success of introducing a different pricing structure for the evening.

“There are lots of new faces here,” he said. “By offering two pricing options we increased our number of attendees by 50 percent over last year.” Sandie Abrams, executive director, was also happy the event attracted more people than last year’s gala.

The co-chairs, Francine Attoun and Joyce Kabak, were very happy with the turnout and reactions. Attoun surveyed the attendees for feedback and felt fantastic after hearing their replies.

“I went around to all the tables,” she said, “and heard comments that this was the best event they’ve been to in many years. They said the music was great and uplifting.”

Tom Flynn, a one-man band, kept the party goers entertained with classic rock tunes from the 50s, 60s and early 70s. His long hair, red bandana head band, John Lennon-style wire rimmed glasses and suede jacket completed the picture of a rock star from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Young women came to the event to assist the elderly and disabled and to volunteer.

“They were a nice service aspect to the evening,” Smason said about the girls. “The event teaches them about respecting the elderly.”

Earlier in the evening, Smason introduced rabbis from other organizations who attended the anniversary celebration: Rabbis Menachem Kirshner and Sroy Levitansky from the St. Louis Kollel; Rabbi Landa from Chabad; Rabbi Yaakov Gertzulin from the JCA at the Cedars; Rabbi Gabriel Munk, principal of Block Yeshiva High School; and Rabbi Michael Rovinsky, director of NCSY. Kirshner came to celebrate with NHBZ because he feels a part of the shul.

“It’s a warm, friendly place,” he said, “and we’ve been teaching there.”

Reflecting on the synagogue’s past year, Smason said NHBZ has experienced a growth in membership. He attributed this increase to innovative programs such as Synaplex Shabbat, pizza night, and teen events. Smason was pleased with how the anniversary gala was organized.

“By having an hors d’oeuvres dinner people weren’t tied to one banquet table,” he said. “Especially with the appetizer-sized plates, people were forced to mingle since they had to come back to the buffet tables for more food.”

Smason summed up the evening by emphasizing what’s really important.

“At these events, it’s not the food or the speeches that are the most memorable…it’s the people.”