The year in review: Change, progress and controversy mark 2019

In 2019, (from left) Jewish motorcyclists converged in St. Louis to attend the annual Ride 2 Remember; Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo parades the Stanley Cup down Market Street; and Brothers Lazaroff performed at the Light’s Why Be Jewish? event at the .ZACK. Photos: Eric Berger, Kayla Steinberg and Bill Motchan


The year 2019 will be remembered as one that saw top leaders in the St. Louis Jewish community come and go, as well as new Jewish organizations take shape and existing ones merge and/or change venues. A new Covenant Place senior housing complex opened, and with it a full-service restaurant that serves both kosher and non-kosher food. Social justice causes remained front and center for many local Jews while emotions bubbled at an event featuring Israeli Defense Forces veterans who were critical of the Israeli government.


Jewish Family & Children’s Service announced its new CEO, Miriam Seidenfeld, who took the reigns the following month. Seidenfeld succeeded Louis Albert in the role, which he occupied for 29 years. Seidenfeld came to JF&CS with more than 25 years of experience working with children and families in non-profit settings, and 15 years of non-profit leadership experience.

While several cities, including Chicago, New Orleans and Cincinnati, canceled their Women’s March because of issues of anti-Semitism and mismanagement, the one in St. Louis took place as planned. Organizers here emphasized that the local event was separate from any other one and did not condone anti-Semitism or hate rhetoric of any kind.

Jewish Federation of St. Louis formed a search committee to find a replacement for Andrew Rehfeld, its former CEO and president who took the job as president of Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. Federation named a team to lead the organization in the interim: Chief Operating Officer Don Hannon; Senior Director, Community Engagement Karen Sher; and Chief Philanthropy Officer Michael Oberlander.




Twenty-six year old Alex Abramson, a John Burroughs School graduate, is part of a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology that invented a device that could allow people with diabetes to receive insulin orally rather than through an injection. The device uses a dissolvable micro needle inside a pill to inject the drug directly into stomach tissue.

Shaving Israel, a local nonprofit, announced a new president, Dr. Laura Goldmeier, to succeed Joel Levy, who had been in that post since the organization’s founding in 2005. Shaving Israel provides Israeli soldiers with items they need in the field that are not provided by the Israel Defense Forces, including a variety of personal care items and toiletries.

{{tncms-inline alignment=”right” content=”<p class="p4"><em style="">Based on unique pageviews</em> </p> <p class="p1">1. Police investigating Olivette home vandalism as possible hate crime (Aug. 29)</p> <p class="p1">2. Med student’s suicide shines light on epidemic among health practitioners (Oct. 10)</p> <p class="p1">3. Jewish Federation hires new CEO (Nov. 7)</p> <p class="p1">4. Jews of Greece inspire Rosh Hashanah recipes (Sept. 19)</p> <p class="p1">5. Classic M.C. Hammer song, video serve as useful Passover guide (April 18)</p> <p class="p1">6. Rising Jewish singer-songwriter Lucy Greenbaum takes baton at Shaare Emeth (July 11)</p> <p class="p1">7. Kosher food truck opens in St. Louis (Nov. 14)</p> <p class="p1">8. Creve Coeur moves to change park name to honor black doctor who faced discrimination (Nov. 26)</p> <p class="p1">9. A heartwarming story from an island getaway (News & Schmooze column, Nov. 29)</p> <p class="p1">10. Jewish classics, minus the gluten (Sept. 19)</p> <p class="p1">11. Kosher restaurants in St. Louis face numerous challenges — here’s how owners are adapting (Aug. 29)</p> <p class="p1">12. Zoning issue stalls Miriam Academy bid for B’nai El building (May 2)</p> <p class="p1">13.  St. Louis native Sam Zvibleman co-creates Emmy-nominated show (Sept. 12)</p> <p class="p1">14. St. Louis family embarks on new life in Israel (Aug. 15)</p> <p class="p1">15. Putting his stamp on the world: Profile of Alex Haiman (Oct. 3)</p> <p class="p1">16. Commentary: The problem with Breaking the Silence (Nov. 7)</p> <p class="p1">17. Kol Rinah rabbi made sweeping changes to revamp, revitalize religious school (Jan. 31)</p> <p class="p1">18. Making her Mark(s) as a fashion designer (Profile of Madison Marks, Aug. 15)</p> <p class="p1">19. Commentary: Breaking the Silence turmoil ‘broke my heart’ (Dec. 12)</p> <p class="p1">20. Commentary: My brief encounter with Joni Mitchell (Feb. 6)</p>” id=”b0f526ce-f5ed-4fbb-84e4-dc7e097b6f0e” style-type=”info” title=”Top stories of 2019 on” type=”relcontent” width=”half”}}


Missouri State lawmakers introduced legislation to bar certain companies from receiving state contracts if they engage in a boycott of Israel. Two of the new bills introduced stipulate that companies are not only precluded from boycotting Israel but also territories under its control, referring to West Bank settlements.

Beth Shalom Cemetery announced a new section for the burial of cremated remains. In addition, it will allow for the burial of non-Jews who are immediate family members of Jews buried at the cemetery. The cemetery is a separate entity located within the grounds of the Chesterfield location of Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, an Orthodox institution.

Alzado Harris, the man charged with knocking over more than 150 headstones at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City in 2017, pleaded guilty to felony institutional vandalism and received three years of probation and a suspended sentence. St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge John D. Warner also ordered Harris, 35, to pay $5,000 in restitution, maintain fulltime work and take an anger management course. Harris told University City police that he was angry after an argument with a friend, and was drunk and high on marijuana when the friend dropped him off near the cemetery in February 2017.



A new Chabad chapter is established in the Central West End, led by Rabbi Yossi Abenson and his wife, Goldie.

Jewish Federation of St. Louis announced that its annual campaign met its goal by edging upward for the fourth straight year. It netted $10.2 million during its 2018 campaign.

H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy and Yeshivat Kadimah High School announced that they will form one school and move from the Olivette building they share to a new space in University City.

The Jewish Light unveiled its Why Be Jewish? video storytelling project at an event at the .ZACK in midtown. The videos look at each participant’s connection to Judaism, how it has evolved over time and what it may look like going forward. Most of the participants are in their 20s and 30s, and come from all streams of Judaism as well as the unaffiliated and include single Jews, married Jews, interfaith couples, LGBTQ Jews, Jewish converts and a Jew by choice. View the videos online at


Leaders of Miriam Academy, a private high school for students with learning disabilities, sought to relocate and reached an agreement with Congregation Shaare Emeth to purchase the former B’nai El Congregation building, which has been closed since 2012. But the deal stalled because part of the property is located in the Village of Westwood and the township would not grant zoning approval. In June, Village of Westwood trustees, in a 3-2 vote, rejected Miriam’s rezoning application.

The Jewish Motorcycle Alliance held its annual Ride 2 Remember in St. Louis. The event raised money for Holocaust education and drew more than 160 people from across the United States, Canada, Israel and Australia.

The Jewish Light honored the 2019 Unsung Heroes and all previous Heroes from the past 10 years at the 10th anniversary of the Unsung Heroes awards during an event at the 560 Music Building in University City. The 2019 Heroes were: Reva Davis, Barbara Finch, Karen Flotte, Jeff & David Lazaroff (Brothers Lazaroff), Alice Ludmer, Jennifer Rothman Mancuso, Dr. Gary Ratkin, Dr. Terry Weiss, Julie Williams and The B’nai Amoona Delmar Gardens West “Welcome the Shabbat” Volunteers (Beverly Chervitz, Laurie Cohen, Mark Dana, Joel Dennis, Jay Englander, Harvey Greenstein, Ron Heller, Richard Hitt, Andrew Oberman, Sherry Phillips, Randi Schenberg, Joel Spigel and Phyllis Traub).



Senior residents of Covenant Place moved into a new $34 million, 111,697-square-foot facility. The building features 102 one-bedroom apartments, all of which are federally subsidized to make them affordable for residents. The new facility, which receives support from Jewish Federation of St. Louis, also includes the new Mirowitz Center, offering expanded space for dining, medical and social programs for residents and the community at large.

The Jewish Light hosted the annual American Jewish Press Association conference in St. Louis. The newspaper won four Simon Rockower Awards, the annual prizes for excellence in Jewish journalism given by AJPA.

Three young Jewish rabbis left St. Louis for other cities. Jonah Zinn left Congregation Shaare Emeth to become  executive director of the University of Florida Hillel in Gainsville; Orrin Krublit left Congregation B’nai Amoona to become the new rabbi at Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation; and Rabbi Been Greenfield left Bais Abraham Congregation for Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Shul.

The Jewish community (and everyone else in town) celebrated the St. Louis Blues’ first Stanley Cup victory.


After the Westwood trustees blocked the deal to purchase the B’nai El property, Miriam looked elsewhere and reached an agreement with the H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy, to purchase the Modern Orthodox Jewish day school’s property in Olivette.

Jason Kander, the Jewish former Kansas City mayoral and U.S. Senate candidate, took a leadership position with the Veterans Community Project, a nonprofit that aims to end veterans’ homelessness. Kander, who served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan, dropped out of the mayoral race in 2018 to seek mental health treatment because he said he was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and having suicidal thoughts.

A buyer at a Tel Aviv auction house paid $6,750 for a penny that blessed by the sixth Chabad Rebbe during a 1930 visit to St. Louis. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn came to the city as part of a fundraising campaign for a new mikvah (ritual bath) and gave a blessing to anyone who donated: “I give you this coin in the hope that in the merit of my holy ancestors, whoever will receive this coin will be protected from pain, and will be blessed with offspring, life and prosperity.”


More than 100 activists — about half of them Jewish — traveled from St. Louis to an Army post at Fort Sill in Oklahoma to protest plans for a “temporary emergency influx shelter” for approximately 1,400 migrant children. The federal government planned to stage the shelter because of overcrowding at the 168 other facilities and programs in 23 states tasked with providing care for migrant children. But on July 24, a week before the protesters’ visit, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., announced that the center’s opening would be delayed due to a drop in border crossings.

Temple Israel of Godfrey, Ill., about 40 minutes from St. Louis, prepared to close and sell its property because of  dwindling membership. The Reform congregation, which was founded in 1923, agreed to donate one of its Torahs to a Reform congregation in Missoula, Mont. The Weitmans, a St. Louis family, attended a Kabbalat Shabbat service and agreed to transport the Torah to the Montana congregation. They purchased an extra plane ticket for the scroll.


Bais Abraham Congregation welcomed its new spiritual leader, Rabbi Garth Silberstein, who started in the post on Sept. 1.  Silberstein, 39, is a native of Davis, Calif. He came to St. Louis from Knesset Israel Torah Center in Sacramento. He is also the founder and former director of the Organic Yeshiva in Sacramento, Calif.

The Jewish Federation of St. Louis installed Greg Yawitz as its new board chair during its 118th Annual Meeting on Sept. 12 at the Kaplan Feldman Complex. Yawitz succeeded Gerry Greiman. Yawitz, a past president of Congregation Shaare Emeth, was previously vice chair of community investment for Federation, and served on the organization’s strategic planning committee. “It is truly humbling to be standing here tonight as our Federation’s next board chair,” said Yawitz. “I accept this position with tremendous humility and will put every effort forth to honor those who have come before me.”

H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy announced the sale of its 58,000-square foot building and eight-acre campus on North Warson Road to the Miriam Foundation, which will house its three-year-old Miriam Academy at the site. Currently sharing space with a Clayton church, Miriam will now be able to spread out its 63 students across eight classrooms, two science labs and a gymnasium. Thorp said Miriam will put about $2 million into the structure.

In other Jewish day school news, the University City Board of Education halted the proposed sale of a district building that could have become the new home of Torah Prep’s girls’ division, which is located in the middle of Novus Development’s proposed $190 million Costco-anchored redevelopment project in University City. Novus sought to purchase the University City School District’s Ronald E. McNair Administration Building, located at 8136 Groby Road, so that it could relocate the Torah Prep building. During a Sept. 19 meeting, the school board voted against declaring the district building as surplus property, which was required to put it up for sale. Four of seven school board members voted in favor of the proposal, but that didn’t meet the required two-thirds approval.


H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy closed on its new location in University City, the 22,000-square-foot former United Cerebral Palsy Building on Old Bonhomme just west of McKnight Road. Epstein starts the semester at its new location this month. “While it is certainly bittersweet to bid farewell to the building that has been our home for the past five decades, we are excited for the future of our beloved school,” Max Gornish, Epstein’s president and board chair, wrote in a letter to parents.

The new HJ’s Café, located adjacent to the Mirowitz Center in the new Covenant Place II Cahn Family Building, opened and started serving breakfast and lunch, later opening for dinner as well. Company Kitchen, a 100-year-old food service company out of Kansas City, founded by Myron Green, is managing the new restaurant, which offers both kosher (dairy) and non-kosher options to diners.

Andrew Rehfeld was inaugurated as the new president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion — the Reform movement’s rabbinical school. Rehfeld is a former political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis who led the Jewish Federation of St. Louis from 2012 to earlier this year. He began in the role at HUC-JIR on April 1. He succeeded Rabbi Aaron Panken, who died in a plane crash last year at age of 53.


Jewish Federation of St. Louis announced the hiring of Brian Herstig, 48, as its new president and CEO. Herstig starts in the role this month. A social worker by training, Herstig has more than a decade of experience in leadership roles at Federations in Minneapolis and Pittsburgh. Herstig most recently worked as director of advancement and operations for Twin Cities RISE, a secular nonprofit that aims to lift people out of poverty by providing them long-term, stable employment.

A visit by representatives of Breaking the Silence, a group that uses testimonies from former soldiers to raise awareness of what they describe as abuse of the Palestinian population, sparked intense debate over how St. Louis Jewish groups support Israel and what constitutes legitimate criticism of the Jewish State. The group’s Nov. 13 event, which was co-sponsored by J Street and the New Israel Fund and held at Congregation B’nai Amoona, drew about 200 people, including vocal opponents to Breaking the Silence. After the event, a number of St. Louisans voiced their support or opposition in numerous commentaries and letters to the editor in the Light.

St. Louis Jews helped advocate for Creve Coeur to change the name of Beirne Park as a way to illuminate and redress past discrimination in the St. Louis suburb. In the mid-1950s, Creve Coeur residents and city officials, including former mayor John Beirne, kept a dozen African American families from building homes on land they bought in a neighborhood called Spoede Meadows. The city used eminent domain to seize the property of black physician Howard Phillip Venable. The advocates for a name change recommended naming the park after Venable. A local lawyer, Jim Singer, and his synagogue, Congregation Shaare Emeth, took a leading role in advocating for the name change. On Nov. 25, the Creve Coeur City Council moved unanimously to draft an ordinance that would change the Beirne Park’s name to the H. Philip Venable Memorial Park.



The Holocaust Museum & Learning Center announced Sandra Harris will serve as the museum’s new executive director, starting Jan. 13. A native St. Louisan, Harris returned to her hometown after 30 years to serve as Library Director for Maryville University, where she revamped the library’s operations and programs. At the same time, Hannon announced that the current Director, Jean Cavender, will be transitioning into her new role as Director of Community Engagement & Outreach for the museum.

On the first night of Hanukkah, during a menorah lighting ceremony on Old Main Street in downtown St. Charles, Chabad of Greater St. Louis announced plans for a new chapter serving St. Charles. The Chabad Jewish Center of St. Charles County will host a crowd-funding campaign this month to help get started. The center will be co-directed by the husband and wife team of Rabbi Chaim Landa and Bassy Landa. Chaim is the son of Rabbi Yosef Landa, regional director of Chabad of Greater St. Louis. A 2014 community study by Jewish Federation of St. Louis found an estimated 5,800 Jews living in St. Charles County.

Volunteers turned out in droves for the ninth annual Jewish-Muslim Day of Community Service, held Dec. 25 by the JCRC’s Milford and Lee Bohm Social Justice Center and the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis. This year’s event included new ways to build interfaith interaction and understanding, including discussions facilitated by leaders from the Muslim and Jewish communities; a knitting circle where experts and novices alike can make winter scarves for those in need; and a chance to observe afternoon prayers at the Dar ul-Islam Mosque.