Horn of Plenty


As the shofar sounds on Rosh Hashana to open the Gates to Heaven, we have a duty on Earth, to open our hearts and minds to the great potential of working together in lovingkindness. Such is the weighty obligation upon us as a Jewish community in charting our path forward.


Sanford Neuman, who became the 38th President of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis last week, reminded us of this awesome responsibility in his interview with the Jewish Light last week and in his installation speech at JFed’s annual meeting. Neuman built on fellow attorney and outgoing JFed President Sheila Greenbaum’s foundation by urging Jewish organizations to maximize opportunities to cooperate and collaborate. He even raised the dread “M” word–merger, that is–as a potential solution in some instances.

Neuman made it clear that the present economic downturn, the worst since the Great Depression, has demonstrated that there are not enough dollars available to meet the needs of all agencies and programs in the absence of community openness in considering how best to work together .

The good news is that there are signs that the partnering contemplated by Neuman and Greenbaum is already taking place, much of it with assistance from professional and lay leadership at local Jewish institutions:

* Solomon Schechter Day School, part of the Conservative movement, and the Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy (SMDS-RJA, have agreed to pool their resources for joint purchasing, staff deployment and teacher training, and are taking advantage of a grant to consider more effective sharing of resources.

* Louis and Sarah Block Yeshiva High School, an Orthodox Jewish day school, is now renting classroom and other facilities from Congregation Shaare Emeth, a truly meaningful cooperative venture.

* SMDS-RJA continues to rent classroom and office space from B’nai El Congregation, resulting in a “win-win” for both institutions in efficiency and cost savings.

* The Jewish Light has discontinued its own separate online Jewish community calendar, in favor of linking to the Jewish Federation’s Web site, jewishinstlouis.org, thus reducing cost and eliminating duplication of effort.

“Necessity is the mother of invention” goes the old proverb, and often out of a crisis comes new and innovative ways to deliver the same level of services through joint efforts and considerable cost savings. Such cooperation is exemplified by the above examples, and by the remarkable story in our Sept. 9 edition about the heartening cooperation between Orthodox and Reform synagogues in post-Katrina New Orleans. Born of the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the rabbis of the two congregations have come together for social, educational and even ritual programs. Thanks to the spirit of K’l Yisrael, one Jew helping a fellow Jew, Rabbi Robert Loewy of Gates of Prayer and Rabbi Uri Topolosky of Beth Israel have forged a truly historic partnership.

In the past, the often bitter and acrimonious divisions among the various streams of Judaism would have made such cooperative ventures as those above impossible. While we still see such sentiments exhibited in the news and in our community (indeed, even our own letters and opinion pages are sometimes fraught with them), we choose to embrace the potential for “what can be” rather than wearily dismissing “what cannot.”

No one suggests this is easy. Agencies, institutions and synagogues have not only pride, but institutional history and memory that make surrendering or sharing control a painful exercise. And the attributes of each organization should be afforded the utmost respect; we must never fail to understand and appreciate what makes each and every organization special and unique. But the more open, creative and mindful we can be of the positives of partnering, the more success we can together achieve.

We hope that the aspirations articulated by Neuman in his inaugural speech and the examples of cooperation in New Orleans and right here in St. Louis will help forge an enduring positive and collaborative legacy in the years ahead. This would be a splendid development to contemplate as we begin to prepare for the Jewish Year 5770. Let us keep our hearts and minds open to the awesome possibilities.