Sunshine State beckons for two local 30-something rabbis

Joel Marion Photography
Rabbi Jonah Zinn of Congregation Shaare Emeth. Photo: Joel Marion Photography

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

When you hear about St. Louis Jews heading to Florida, it’s usually around December to flee the cold weather or for the Cardinals spring training or around age 65, when they retire.

Rabbis Jonah Zinn and Orrin Krublit are heading to the Sunshine State at the end of June or early July. They are 37 and 32 years old, respectively.

And they are breaking from the usual narrative because the two rabbis of Congregation Shaare Emeth and Congregation B’nai Amoona have accepted new positions that are in some sense a return to their roots. 

Zinn, who prior to moving to St. Louis spent four years as executive director of the University of Virginia Hillel, will become executive director of the University of Florida Hillel in Gainsville.

Krublit grew up in Orlando and that’s where he’ll be returning as the new rabbi at Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation.

With both young rabbis, who each started in St. Louis in 2014, migrating south, the Light thought the coincidence provided an opportunity to tell a new Florida story. So we asked Krublit and Zinn to reflect on their time here. (The interviews were conducted separately and their responses have been edited for space.)

What was your idea of St. Louis and the St. Louis Jewish community before you moved here?

Zinn: Before I came to interview here, I had only been here once before, so I didn’t know very much. But what I found at Shaare Emeth was an incredibly warm, welcoming community that really cared about its rabbis and was interested in getting to know them and learning from them and partnering with them to help strengthen the congregation. I was particularly impressed by my clergy colleagues and their desire to welcome a new rabbi onto the team and help me grow. 

Krublit: It’s interesting because I really had no conception of St. Louis whatsoever either as a city or the Jewish community. I came here over the summer and basically fell in love with the city right away — it was really wonderful to come here and discover this incredible Jewish community.  

What have been some of the most meaningful moments from your time at your congregation?

Krublit: The times that I spent with people where they needed a clergy person — both at times of great joy and of course at times of sorrow. Just being present for families in the midst of celebration and in the midst of grieving has been really powerful and is something that has forever transformed my rabbinate. 

Zinn: The most meaningful has been the way congregants, members of our community, have welcomed me into their lives and given me the opportunity to be with them in moments of great joy and also at moments of sorrow and struggle. And being able to develop that deep relationship has been incredible. I’m going to miss a lot of things about St. Louis and Shaare Emeth, but it’s one of the things I’m going to particularly miss about the congregational rabbinate is those opportunities.

From a programmatic perspective, I would say that my work with our youth groups and our high school program has been incredibly meaningful to me — being able to see how through involvement in our confirmation programming and our youth group can help teens find their voice and feel a sense of belonging.

What have been the challenges of working in the St. Louis Jewish community and your congregation?

Krublit: It’s hard to really pick out specific challenges. People say that St. Louis is very cliquey or that the St. Louis Jewish community is cliquey, but I have only found them to be warm and welcoming and embracing, so I don’t know how accurate that stereotype is.

Zinn: I don’t think this is unique to Shaare Emeth or to St. Louis, but I think that people, particularly teens, young adults or children that I have worked with, are incredibly busy. Trying to find ways to engage with them on their terms is a challenge to the Jewish community and is a challenge that probably transcends Jewish life in many respects.

What made you decide to take these new jobs?

Zinn: I wasn’t looking to leave right now, but Hillel work has always been an area of personal passion, particularly the relational engagement work that is so core to what Hillel does. When I was approached about becoming the executive director at the Hillel it excited me because of the opportunity to pursue my own personal passions working with college students at the critical times in their lives, helping to lift them up and to find how they can become owners of our tradition and take the richness of Jewish life and make it relevant to them.

Krublit: I’m going back home in a sense, even though the synagogue I’m going to is on the other side of town from where I grew up. 

The synagogue I’m going to — and this is not to compare or contrast it with B’nai Amoona at all— is actually a very young community, which is really exciting to see as a rabbi. Over half of the families are under the age of 45. They have 80 kids in their religious school and the synagogue is only 180 families, so the numbers are just so amazing. Then, when we visited the synagogue in January, it was just so warm. It really felt like coming home in more than one sense.

And of course, I’m going to miss everyone in St. Louis and at B’nai Amoona in particular.