Shuls set for merger


Shaarei Chesed’s current location, at 700 North and South Road, used to house Chesed Shel Emeth, holds plaques in its sanctuary that are from Mishkan Israel, and will soon hold Torahs from Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol as well.

Shaarei Chesed and Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol have announced that they will be merging to create the Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Shaarei Chesed Shul.

Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol, the oldest continuous Orthodox synagogue in St. Louis, founded in 1879, presently has 40 families. It left its former location at 1227 North and South Road when the synagogue property was sold to Aldi grocery chain as part of a settlement between the BHH synagogue and the BHH cemetery.

The settlement set to rest an age-old dispute between the two entities that stemmed from the fact that the two were tied together, with the cemetery leasing the synagogue building to BHH synagogue for the synagogue to conduct Orthodox services, and the cemetery association taking care of the upkeep of the building and charging the synagogue $1 in rent per year. The two were, however, separate not-for-profit corporations, and therefore two separate legal entities.

The relationship between the two entities soured when the cemetery board felt the building was not being used as an Orthodox synagogue and there were not enough members attending to warrant keeping the building open, and wanted to sell the building to obtain funds that could go into an endowment for the cemetery.

The conflict eventually led to litigation, resulting in a settlement which stated that the cemetery association would have a board composed of four members from the cemetery and four from the synagogue. Robert A. Cohn, a local resident who has a close relative buried at the cemetery, was brought in as an impartial ninth member and along with attorney Gene Zafft, counsel for the cemetery, mediated the dispute resulting in an agreement.

Eventually, Aldi offered to purchase the synagogue property, and while the cemetery wanted to sell the land, it could not do so without the approval of the synagogue. Over the years, Aldi’s offer increased, eventually reaching $300,000, at which point it was agreed the funds could be split in half between the two entities, with the stipulation that the funds the synagogue received be used to perpetuate the synagogue. Aldi took possession of the building, which was later demolished.

BHH synagogue moved to the Torah Prep Boys School in University City, which qualified as an ongoing Orthodox institution, and the funds were released to the synagogue. The settlement agreement required BHH to continue as an Orthodox synagogue or merge with another Orthodox synagogue.

The synagogue then “examined our various options and found (Shaarei Chesed) was a great fit,” said Harold Geiger, president of the synagogue. “The merger combines our history and resources with their programs and facilities.”

Rabbi Elazar Grunberger of Shaarei Chesed said the fit was a good one as Shaarei Chesed is an outreach synagogue that is open to the general community, and “that was the spirit of BHH for many years as well,” and “the form of prayer was the same style of prayer as BHH,” using Ashkenazi siddurs.

Shaarei Chesed’s Grunberger will continue on as the spiritual leader for the joint shul.

The assets which BHH brings to the merger will be used to renovate Shaarei Chesed’s current building, including landscaping, and remodeling the sanctuary to be more contemporary.

A new board will be chosen Sunday, Sept. 3, that will consist of three members from BHH synagogue joining the members of the board from Shaarei Chesed.

There will be a symbolic march of the Torahs from BHH to Shaarei Chesed, with the date to be announced.

And Geiger said he changed the shul’s motto, which used to be “We are proud of our past and look forward to our future,” to, “We are proud of our past and look forward to our future together.”

Keren Douek is an assistant editor and can be reached at [email protected].