Once again, in perhaps the most universally celebrated Jewish family festival, Jews the world over will soon gather for festive seders, celebrating the redemption of the Israelite people from Egyptian slavery in 1250 BCE. And once again, as has been the case every Pesach since the first observance of our liberation from slavery, world, national and local Jewry have a very full seder plate of both challenges and opportunities.
Here at home, our strong, vibrant and diverse Jewish community of St. Louis is celebrating its bicentennial. According to local Jewish historian Donald I. Makovsky and the late Dr. Walter Ehrlich in his two-volume history of our community, Zion in the Valley, it has been 200 years since Joseph Philipson, a Jew of either Polish or German origins, traveled from Philadelphia to settle in St. Louis in 1807. Philpson was soon followed by his brother Simon and other family members, and the first known Jewish family in St. Louis propspered in local businesses, including lumber and brewing, among others. Some 30 years later, in 1837, United Hebrew Congregation became the first synagogue not only in St. Louis, but one of the first west of the Mississippi; U.H. was founded as an Orthodox synagogue, but evolved into a Reform Jewish temple, and continues to serve a large membership.
It is significant to note that Isadore Erwin Millstone, called “The Patriarch” of our Jewish community for his many contributions to our growth and strength, himself has marked his 100th birthday. Millstone had the vision to purchase for the Jewish community the 108-acre tract which is home to the Wohl Building of the Jewish Community Center, the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building, Covenant/Chai Apartments and the Vaad Hoeir as well as camping, cultural and athletic facilities, which is now apporopriately called the Millstone Jewish Community Campus. Mr. Millstone has served our community for literally half of its local existence, and for that and many other reasons, he deserves a special yasher koach and mazel tov this Passover season.
Our Jewish community of St. Louis, officially estimated to be 60,000 members strong, is blessed with an outstanding array of local Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation of St. Louis and its local, national and overseas beneficiaries, 23 synagogues representing all streams of Judaism, dedicated rabbis, cantors and teachers and a non-stop array of exciting religious, spiritual, cultural and intellectual activities sponsored by hundreds of groups each week.
Nationally and globally,a resurgence in anti-Semitism, as audited by the Anti-Defamation League continues to be disturbing and even sickening in its increasing brazenness. As reported in these pages last week, the ADL Annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents shows that there has been a decline in such incidents nationally for the second consecutive year, but an increase in such activities in the Missouri-Southern Illinois Region. In recent months, two especially ugly demonstrations by neo-Nazi demonstrators took place. A group of demonstrators staged a march in front of the Jewish Federation Kopolow Building in sight of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, which is often visited by survivors, and earlier this month another group from the National Socialist Movement demonstrated in Columbia, Missouri, sparking a counter-demonstration by diverse groups of University of Missouri-Columbia and residents of the city.
Globally, in the State of Israel, the very land to which the Children of Israel in Sinai were traveling, last summer’s 33-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon was inconclusive and depressing to the Israeli people, and the formation of a “national unity” between Fatah and Hamas has all but doomed the peace process. At the same time, Israel continues to be a light unto the nations, an example of an enduring democracy, and the location of a vast array of educational, scientific and cultural assets, including major universities, high-tech industries, and the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
As we celebrate Passover at our family seders this season, let us offer prayers of deep gratitude for our many blessings, and demonstrate that we are worthy of those blessings through our generous support and active involvement in our Jewish community.
We wish our readers a happy and fulfilling Passover!