In the beginning: CAJE

Pictured are the 1989 graduates of CAJE’s Jewish Community High School (now called JOLT). Seated: David Bianco and Brian Gold. First row: Eddie Weinstein, Ken Meyer, David Zarkowsky, Todd Schneider, David Paskin. Back row: Rabbi Arnold D. Samlan, Byron Kerman, Mike Mishkin, Louis Mendlowitz and Rabbi Howard M. Graber.


How time truly does fly when you are having fun! It is really hard to believe but March 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Central Agency for Jewish Education (CAJE), which started off with a modest set of goals but emerged into a vital force for the entire Jewish community.

Full disclosure: I have taught several CAJE courses and courses at the CAJE/JOLT program, which was formerly known as the Jewish Community High School.


Local writer Iris Salsman in a Jewish Light article in 1991, at the time of the 20th anniversary of CAJE, took note of “the leaders of the St. Louis Jewish community, men and women who had the foresight to look ahead, the wisdom to look back and the determination to ensure that 2,000 years of Judaism would remain alive and healthy for the next generation.”

Prior to the formal creation of CAJE as a constituent beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation, Jewish community educational needs were under the umbrella of the late Rabbi Dr. Isidore Fish, the longtime Superintendant/Director of the Board of Jewish Education. Fish, a sweet-natured scholar and a devoted educator, provided and maintained a centralized Hebrew school system in which several congregations were involved. In cooperation with Fish and the lay leadership of BJE, the Federation engaged the services of Morris Milgrom, an internationally respected expert on Jewish education, who proposed the formation of a more extensive agency that would encompass all aspects of Jewish education from pre-schools through adult education. It also would provide teacher training, certification and support for afternoon Hebrew schools, weekend synagogue and temple religious schools and day schools, with a full time executive director and a Jewishly diverse board of directors.

Present at the creation of CAJE and serving as its first lay president was the late Louis I. Zorensky, a past President of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis and a passionate supporter of Jewish education. Zorensky was able to secure the funding for the new agency even before it was formally incorporated by action of the JFed board in March 1972. The old BJE was folded into CAJE in a formal corporate merger. Zorensky was also able to secure funding for the first Youth-in-Israel loan program which encouraged scores of young people to pursue courses of study in the State of Israel and which has continued over the years, augmented by Birthright Israel and other funding entities.

At a crucial meeting of the organizing commission for CAJE, attorney Kenneth A. Marshall, a former member of the Jewish Light Board of Trustees and a veteran leader of Temple Emanuel, introduced the formal motion to create the new agency and to formally request Jewish Federation recognition. This was the same decisive Ken Marshall who developed the original “Marshall Plan” early in the history of the Jewish Light. His “Marshall Plan” was to devote about half of each front page to local Jewish news and the other half to national and international news. That basic formula endures to this day with exceptions only as needed.

Once CAJE had official status, it engaged its first professional executive director, Louis Schwartzman. He was to be succeeded by Rabbi Howard M. Graber, who commented that CAJE in its early years had “demonstrated the importance of learning on all levels and in all settings, and have shown how Jewish education can be made effective.” Graber was succeeded by Jeffrey Lasday, and later by Sonia Dobinsky, the current executive director, who have continued the CAJE practice of educational innovation, expansion of the Florence Melton and other adult Jewish education programs and the infusion of new life into the JOLT program, which provides Jewish teens two hours of Jewish education every week taught by a variety of scholars and rabbis.

In addition to its outstanding professional leadership and dedicated teachers and administrators, CAJE through the years has benefited from visionary and goal-driven lay leadership. These include the original driving force provided by Zorensky, its founding president, up to and including its current president, the respected educator and community volunteer Marcia Moskowitz.

Forty years is a major symbolic milestone in the Jewish narrative. We wandered for 40 years in the Wilderness of Sinai, where we received the Torah, our central Teaching, and where we were commanded to “teach diligently or faithfully unto our children.” For these past 40 years the men, women and children of CAJE have fulfilled that major mitzvah. May CAJE go on to the proverbial age of Moses–120 and beyond!