Community mourns passing of young leader Eli Abeles

Eli M. Abeles

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Listening to friends, family and St. Louis Jewish community leaders talk about Eli M. Abeles, it is clear that he and his boundless energy made an indelible impression on all who knew him during his 40 years. He was described by Andrew Rehfeld, CEO and President of Jewish Federation of St. Louis, as “not just an extraordinary individual, husband, father, son, grandson, friend and nephew, (but) someone whose leadership will be missed for many years to come.”

Mr. Abeles, who was 40 years old, died on Monday, Sept. 10, from renal cancer, which he fought so valiantly since he was diagnosed a year ago. Despite his young years, Mr. Abeles was well established as a Jewish communal leader who did not allow even his final illness to deter him from coming to meetings as long as he was able to, keeping up with organizational activities via email and other social media, and providing wise advice and counsel to the groups in which he was active.

“Eli was an active member of our Jewish community, serving in many leadership capacities at the J and Federation,” recalled Rehfeld. “As one of the first Millstone Fellows in Federation’s leadership development program, Eli brought his warm sense of humor and quiet, yet effective leadership style. He was very well loved and respected by his friends. He was known to be a committed dad and husband as well.”

Despite family commitments, professional obligations and work with Jewish organizations, Mr. Abeles was always looking to give back.  

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“He joined Federation’s Audit Committee and his extraordinary knowledge of financial matters was of great value to the group that worked with external auditors and staff to ensure an accurate and complete audit,” Rehfeld continued.  “He took his responsibilities seriously. While he could no longer attend meetings as he became ill, Eli continued to participate in the selection of a new external auditor in the fall of 2017.”

Earlier this summer, Federation selected Mr. Abeles as one of the recipients of the David N. and Roselin Grosberg Young Leadership Award, which recognizes volunteer leaders in the Jewish community who are 40 years and under who demonstrate active leadership. The award will be presented to Mr. Abeles posthumously at Federation’s annual meeting on Thursday, Sept. 27, at 5:30 p.m.

Lynn Wittels, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center, said that everyone associated with the J was deeply saddened over the passing of Mr. Abeles.

“Eli served in a variety of leadership positions at the J,” Wittels said. “He was instrumental on the Camp Sabra Committee, chair of the Audit Committee, assistant treasurer of our Finance Committee, and ultimately vice chair of our board. As a member of our lay leadership, Eli was especially helpful in creating our strategic plan to create the vibrant J we have today.

”Eli was a trusted adviser and mentor, but most of all, he was a friend,” she continued. “He was wise beyond his years.  He had a sharp wit and a big heart.” 

She added that Camp Sabra was Mr. Abeles’ special place.  “He knew first-hand the impact that summers at Camp Sabra had on campers and staff alike,” Wittels said.  “Sabra was his true passion.  He met (his wife) Stacy at Sabra, and his son, Aaron is a two-year camper.  Both Aaron and (his other son) Jonah have attended Family Camp weekends and I have a long stream of text messages to and from Eli that I will cherish,” she said. “These messages provided an eye into his soul.  He was a good man, a good friend and a good role model for us all.”

Eli Mical Abeles was born April 16, 1978, the son of Ronald and Bette Altman Abeles, both of whom have been active with the local Jewish community for decades. Mr. Abeles attended H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy from kindergarten through eighth grade and later went to Parkway Central High School. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin, where he majored in accounting, and entered a five-year BA/MA program.

In 2002, Mr. Abeles and Stacy Sapot became engaged and they married on Aug. 31, 2003 at the Chase Park Plaza.  They resided in Washington, D.C., first in DuPont Circle and then at a condo in Bethesda, Md. 

The couple moved back to St. Louis, where Mr. Abeles worked at the accounting firm Deloitte. He later joined his father’s firm, Abeles and Hoffman.

In his eulogy, Kol Rinah Rabbi Noah Arnow noted, “Eli was adamant about earning every role and title, and he really did earn everything.  He grew the business dramatically, and a few years ago, was named president.”

In discussing Mr. Abeles, Arnow pointed out that devotion to family was his greatest passion.  

“In April 2009, Aaron was born, and in 2012, Stacy and Eli were blessed with Jonah,” the rabbi added. He also explained that the funeral service for Mr. Abeles was hosted by Congregation Shaare Emeth because the large number of people who wanted to attend the service exceeded the current capacity of the Kol Rinah building.

Another person who spoke very movingly about the passing of Mr. Abeles, was his longtime friend, Matt Litwack.

“Eli was my best friend. Sure, I have a couple of other besties, but Eli was, and will always be my best friend,” said Litwack.  

“Eli wasn’t just my best friend.  He was the best friend.  He was my confidant, my accountant, my personal adviser, my consigliere and the good cop to my bad cop. Our friendship dates back nearly three decades.”

Litwack also expressed admiration for Mr. Abeles’ wife, Stacy, saying she is “incredible.”

“You have carried your family and friends on your back for the last year,” Litwack said. “Your positivity and optimism gave all of us an incredible amount of strength during Eli’s fight. Eli was so lucky to have you by his side and we have been, too.  He loved you and the boys the most.”

Following the service at Shaare Emeth, burial was at the Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery, 9125 Ladue Road.  Memorial contributions preferred to the Siteman Cancer Center, Pedal the Cause, the J or Camp Sabra.