NHBZ finds buyer; plans for new shul to move forward


A local Orthodox congregation is one step closer to its new home. Nusach Hari B’nai Zion announced last week that it has an accepted contract on its present synagogue property, a 1.2-acre tract at 8630 Olive Boulevard. The site, which includes the shul’s sanctuary, parking lot and an administrative/educational building, has housed NHBZ for the past half century. The congregation plans to construct a new structure on a two-acre parcel of land behind the Logos School at Price and Old Bonhomme roads.

Menachem Szus, chairman of the relocation committee, identified the buyer as a private individual who wished to operate a daycare center and church but said that the synagogue would not release further details regarding the purchaser or price until after the Sept. 30 closing. Szus said that the congregation will remain in its present space until Nov. 1, which will take it through the High Holidays. After that the terms of the deal would allow NHBZ to continue to meet for services in the administrative/educational building on the back of the Olive property until September of next year.


“We’d like to be able to get out well before that,” he said. “Right now we’re still negotiating and planning with the contractors exactly how the new building is going to shape up.”

Szus said NHBZ hopes to break ground on the new facility before winter. Plans call for a bi-level structure that will encompass about 15,000 square feet, roughly the same as the combined floor space of both of the shul’s present buildings. The final design is still in flux as fundraising continues but Szus said that the final project cost should fall in the $2-to-$3 million range.

“We still have some ways to go,” he said. “We’d like to be further along but we are going to build based on what kind of funds we have raised and what we’ll be able to borrow.”

NHBZ’s Rabbi Ze’ev Smason noted that some of the financial generosity the congregation has experienced has come from unexpected sources.

“The way that many of these projects work is that the complete portrait of what the new facility will look like is dependent to a degree on the amount of last minute support that comes in,” he said. “We’ve seen financial support from some people in the general community recognizing that the new building is something that will not simply be there to serve our current members but will also be an opportunity for outreach and a gift to the entire Jewish community.”

Though it is only a mile or so away from the present site, both Szus and Smason believe the new location will make a big difference in helping the synagogue to expand its congregation.

“Even though it’s a relatively short distance, it’s in the midst of a residential community,” he said. “Unlike our current location, we’re smack dab in the middle of houses and apartment buildings right in the heart of Olivette,” Smason said.

Calling the buyers “extremely accommodating,” the rabbi said that he doesn’t think that the transitional period will be a difficult one despite having to temporarily squeeze the congregation’s membership, estimated at about 250 adult members, into temporary space in the smaller building. Still, Smason joked that he was looking at buying “an industrial-sized shoehorn” to meet the challenge.

“We’ll be wandering Jews for a short period of time but it’ll certainly be worth the wait when we move into our new property,” he said. “It’s an enviable challenge to have because the fact that we’re in a smaller space means that we’re on the go and in the process of moving to our new facility.”

Irwin Rosen, congregation president, thinks that programming will mostly proceed as usual in the interim. The congregation’s annual kosher chili cook off is set for November and will be held at the Jewish Community Center’s Creve Coeur campus just as it was last year. NHBZ’s monthly kosher pizza night, known as the Lion’s Den, will present bigger challenges but Rosen said that the ovens, presently in the main building, are portable and he hopes the event can be moved to the temporary quarters until the shul’s new home is built.

Recalling that his grandfather originally joined the synagogue just after the turn of the century, Rosen, 71, said he was the third of five generations of his family to attend the synagogue. His father was bar mitzvahed in 1921 when the congregation was still located near downtown St. Louis. Rosen himself underwent the same ceremony nearly 30 years later at the synagogue, which was then located on Blackstone Avenue, on the city’s North Side. Over the past few decades he has watched as his children and grandchildren have become a part of NHBZ history at the Olive location.

“We’re just buzzing with excitement,” he said. “It’s a new life, a new start.”