Bringing Jews to area is key to future

BY RABBI MARK L. SHOOK

Planning for the future is risky business. Barry Rosenberg’s paper on the future of the Jewish community in St. Louis is therefore an act of courage. Someone needs to take the first step, and who better, than the person who provides the professional leadership of our Jewish Federation. But therein hides a potential problem. Federation leadership cannot afford to alienate sectors of the community. Strategic planning ideas cannot anger major donors or potential major donors, even when those ideas have great merit. In an effort to be all inclusive and diplomatic, it is difficult for Mr. Rosenberg to talk tachlis — to say what is truly on his mind, or to propose solutions that may work but disappoint dedicated community volunteers.

Toward Thriving is also an unbalanced approach to the future of Jewish life in St. Louis. There is an emphasis on developing strong and effective St. Louis ties to Israel. Some may question the assumption that Rosenberg accepts as a given, that Israel is the center of Jewish civilization. I have no problem with calling for the promotion and celebration of Israel. In measuring the creativity of all aspects of Jewish culture, Israel is far from being the exclusive center. In a sense, it appears that the driving purpose behind Mr. Rosenberg’s paper is to create a Jewish community that will not shirk its responsibilities toward Jewish philanthropy. Certainly a very worthy goal, but without Jews there will be no Jewish donors.

ADVERTISEMENT
New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

It is only when he discusses the need to retain and attract young Jews to St. Louis that he touches on the true heart of the matter. Developing strategies that bring more Jews to St. Louis should be the priority. Everything else, with careful planning and execution will follow. The Midwest is losing demographic ground to the South and the West. Jewish schools of all types cannot exist without Jewish children. In spite of Mr. Rosenberg’s effort to leave external factors out of the discussion, they can only be set aside at our peril. Our world is growing smaller everyday.

Rabbi Mark Shook is Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel.