Shaare Emeth, B’nai El approve merger deal

Renee Silverstein (left) and Marci Rosenberg say the B’nai El and Shaare Emeth merger is  a ‘reunification’ of the two congregations.

By Eric Berger, Staff Writer

Reform congregations B’nai El and Shaare Emeth have decided to merge, in a move that marks the official end of one congregation that had largely been gone already.

B’nai El was founded in 1852. The congregation’s board voted in 2012 to put up for sale its 28,500 square foot building and six-acre lot at 11411 North 40 Drive in Frontenac. However, the property has remained unsold. 

Under the merger, Shaare Emeth will take ownership of the property, which it plans to sell, said Marci Rosenberg, former president of B’nai El.  

Leaders of both congregations described the merger as a “reunification” because in 1867 Shaare Emeth spun off from B’nai El. The two groups had been the oldest continuously Reform synagogues in the St. Louis area. (United Hebrew, now Reform, was founded as an Orthodox synagogue in 1837 and later became Reform.)

“The wonderful thing about this is it’s just like the parent coming back to the child; that’s how we see this,” said Rosenberg. “In our times of trouble, we came back and the child has taken us in.”

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The two congregations had already tried a collaboration. In 2013, B’nai El started using space on the Shaare Emeth campus in Creve Coeur with the intention of providing programming for adults 50 and over while retaining its legal identity and financial control.

B’nai El and Shaare Emeth leaders ended the collaborative project in August 2014. Then-Shaare Emeth president Greg Yawitz said that the congregation wanted to do “everything it possibly can do” to help B’nai El preserve its legacy. Now, Shaare Emeth will name its chapel the “B’nai El Chapel,” house B’nai El’s torahs in its ark, host a B’nai El chavurah, and preserve B’nai El’s Judaica and Yahrzeit plaques. 

About 70 members of B’nai El have already joined Shaare Emeth. The merger is not expected to increase membership numbers at Shaare Emeth, president Renee Silverstein said.

“I think the benefit for us is doing the right thing in the Jewish community, the benefit of protecting (B’nai El’s) legacy,” said Silverstein.

Rosenberg’s connection to B’nai El dates back to her grandparents. Despite the fact that she spoke positively about the merger, she said that part of her is saddened by the congregation’s dissolution. 

She added, “It’s sad to see anything come to an end, especially (a congregation) that has been around for so long.”

Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Robert A. Cohen contributed to this report.