A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

Get daily updates delivered right to your inbox

Travel agent’s life takes flight on acts of chesed


Murray Bresler is the kind of guy who will help people he’s never met. They could be people in St. Louis, in another city or halfway around the world. He’s also the kind of guy who finds a way to help a nonprofit organization facing a challenging time.

Bresler is a fixer, a problem-solver. Just don’t expect him to talk about it. That’s understandable, because Bresler regularly practices the Jewish principle of chesed, the practice of loving kindness or caring for someone else without any expectation of acknowledgement.

When one performs an act of chesed, it is by definition also performing a mitzvah. It could be giving food to the hungry or visiting someone who is sick. These are voluntary acts for which you should expect nothing in return, other than the knowledge that you are fulfilling a commandment by selflessly doing good for others.

“If you do chesed work, you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of it personally,” Bresler said. “You’ll look in the mirror and feel really good about it. Chesed is what it’s all about. I’m not looking for any thank you for chesed. This is what I want to do. This is what I believe you’re supposed to do, and hopefully I’m accomplishing that.

“One of the foundations of the Jewish heritage is doing chesed. That’s how I grew up. Since I was a young child, my parents, grandparents, my communities always showed me by example that this is what you do.”

Bresler’s reluctance to talk about the specifics of his acts of chesed is also because those acts are private and personal to the recipients. Suffice it to say he’s got connections, resources and boundless energy, according to Dan Lefton, Bresler’s friend and a fellow member of Young Israel.  

“He is a basket of energy, always moving, always talking, always dealing, in constant motion, from sunup to nightfall and beyond,” Lefton said. “He’s a travel agent and probably works 15 hours a day. There are no windows in his office and, many days, he doesn’t even see the sun, he won’t leave until way after the sun goes down. That basement, that bunker is the hub of so many mitzvahs. He makes so many things happen on so many different levels, locally, nationally, internationally, he’s wheeling and dealing, and I mean it in a praiseworthy fashion. He’s helping people.”

Max Gornish, another friend and former president of Young Israel, echoed Lefton’s comments.

“For as long as I’ve known Murray, and I’d like to say that’s about 30 years, he’s just always been a guy that wherever there’s a need, you’ll find Murray,” Gornish said. “He’s always present, he’s always available. He works his tail off, 20-hour days, and somehow he gets it all done, so he’s just that type of guy you can rely on for help, and he loves doing it.”

Bresler grew up in St. Louis. He attended Epstein Hebrew Academy and St. Louis Rabbinical College. Nearly 18 years old and almost ready to graduate, he weighed his options for a career. A friend had dabbled in the travel business, and Bresler found the field fascinating. He contacted Paul and Lee Portnoy, owners of Town and Country Travel, and asked whether they’d hire him as an outside salesman.

“They laughed, but here we are today,” Bresler said. “It became Murray’s Travel 43 years ago. The Portnoys retired 41 years ago. They were mentors, and they taught me everything and, to this day, I appreciate them and miss them.”

One thing Bresler learned from the Portnoys was the value of customer service. There are legendary stories about him rescuing travelers stranded in destinations from Toledo to Timbuktu, Lefton said.

“It’s the ultimate in customer service,” Lefton said. “He knew everyone in the TWA infrastructure. He’d say, ‘OK, here’s what you need to do: Go to the TWA counter and speak to an agent named Carol. There’s one seat on that flight so you can’t leave until they give you a seat.’ He knew every angle. I used to say, ‘Don’t worry — call Murray!’ ”

When Bresler starts working the phones to fix a problem, his motivation to find an answer is because he’s ultimately helping one individual. 

“He’ll say, ‘Lefton, it’s neshamahs (souls),’ ” Lefton said. “Whether it’s just a few dollars, there are people behind each and every one of these acts of kindness. He’s able to break through the exteriors, and there are people behind these organizations you help. That’s his whole thing. 

“It just so happens that when I was president of Epstein Hebrew Academy, the three years after my tenure were a very difficult time. There was a period when we had no path forward. Nothing worked, and Murray figured it out and came up with an ingenious idea that involved the sale of our building that carried us through that period.”

Lefton said Bresler is the embodiment of an Unsung Hero because he expects no accolades for his efforts. However, many people will immediately recognize that he is worthy of the honor. 

“They’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah, he deserves this,’ but everyone will say it for a different reason,” he said.

Bresler said he’s just trying to live his life the right way, and that could mean something as simple as holding the door open for another person.

Or booking a special trip for a traveler.

“They all go hand in hand,” he said. “A person who does chesed work, you like to help people.”

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Bill Motchan, writer/photographer
Bill worked in corporate communications for AT&T for 28 years. He is a former columnist for St. Louis Magazine. Bill has been a contributing writer for the Jewish Light since 2015 and is a three-time winner of the Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish Journalism. He also is a staff writer for the travel magazine Show-Me Missouri. Bill grew up in University City. He now lives in Olivette with his wife and cat, Hobbes. He is an avid golfer and a fan of live music. He has attended the New Orleans Jazzfest 10 times and he has seen Jimmy Buffett in concert more t han 30 times between 1985 and 2023.