Young New Jersey rabbi is chosen to lead Kol Rinah

Rabbi Noah Arnow

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

St. Louis’s newest congregation will have a new rabbi to lead it. 

Rabbi Noah Arnow will join Kol Rinah at the beginning of August. The Scarsdale, N.Y., native has signed a three-year contract with the congregation, which was created from the merger of Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel and Shaare Zedek in 2012. 

“This is a very exciting time for me and my family to be moving to St. Louis to join the Kol Rinah community,” Arnow said. 

Arnow, a public-policy graduate of Brown University, was ordained in 2010 by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He later gained recognition for his rebranding efforts within the Young Families Group at Congregation Beth El in Voorhees, N.J., where he serves as associate rabbi.

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Kol Rinah board member Gary Kodner said the congregation has been searching for its next spiritual leader for almost a year. Arnow, who will turn 35 on May 2, will take over for Rabbi Mark Fasman, who led Shaare Zedek for a dozen years before becoming the spiritual leader of the new institution. Fasman will now assume the role of rabbi emeritus. He said he hopes to do whatever he can to help Arnow get acclimated to his new duties.

“It’s been a wonderful relationship with the congregation, as much as I would have ever hoped for in being a congregational rabbi,” said Fasman, who will remain in his present role through Nov. 1 to help his successor through the transition. 

Fasman said he does not consider this a retirement and plans to remain in St. Louis for the next couple years or perhaps longer. In the meantime, he will continue to be associated with the congregation and will remain there in various roles, including as a teacher.

“I’m looking forward to a new phase of my professional life,” he said. “At this point, there are many options, and I’ll be deciding in the months ahead which directions I want to pursue.”

Both rabbis will serve through the High Holidays.

Susan Cort, president of the congregation, said that Arnow impressed everyone during his visit to Kol Rinah.

“He really engaged people and we had a very positive response from members,” she said. “He is really enthusiastic about shaping a vision with the members and lay leaders of the congregation.”

Sandy Boxerman, co-chair of the personnel committee, said he felt positive about Arnow’s selection, citing his energy, warmth and sincerity.

“I’m sure I could go on and list seven or eight more adjectives, but those are the ones that come to mind,” he said. “From the first conversation, I just felt that he was the right guy.”

Mitchell Shenker, chairman of the board, noted that Arnow had initially pursued a career in politics before coming to the world of spiritual leadership, a combination that the board found interesting.

“He came across as very young and energetic,” Shenker said. “He’s very excited to be in on the ground floor of everything that we’re trying to do as a congregation.”

Arnow already has a St. Louis connection. His wife, Tammy, was born and raised in the Gateway City, and Arnow said it will be nice to be near family. The Arnows have three children: Caleb, 6, Hallel, 4, and Avra, 1.

Arnow described Kol Rinah as a synagogue rich in history and poised for innovation. He said that his first task will be to do a lot of listening and that he looks forward to working with Fasman to learn about the community. 

“The biggest challenge of any new rabbi in a new synagogue is to get to know the community, the congregation and its people,” Arnow said. “That’s where I’ll be spending the bulk of my time during my first few months in St. Louis.”

Arnow said he looks forward to fashioning a vision for the congregation’s future as it continues to come together.

“There is a lot of work still to be done to knit together the fabric of these two historic and wonderful communities,” he said. “I am excited to do that work, but that also means there is the opportunity for a new start, for something new which is challenging but exciting for everyone involved.”

Before becoming a rabbi, Arnow worked on a mayoral campaign in New York City and served as chief of staff to a councilman there.

“I’ve always loved public service, and I realized at some point that I wanted to be able to do public service in a Jewish way,” he said. “I remember once I was drafting a college graduation speech for my boss to give, and I wound up using a story from the Talmud. I realized what I was really writing was a sermon.”