Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Local Synagogue Celebrates 120 Years; Congregation Sprung from a Community of Immigrants; Religion

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Local Synagogue Celebrates 120 Years; Congregation Sprung from a Community of Immigrants; Religion

Article excerpt

Bais Abraham Congregation, St. Louis' oldest Orthodox synagogue, is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year.

The Orthodox Jewish community of St. Louis dates to the early 19th century. Though it began small, in the 1880's and 1890's waves of Orthodox Jews from Russia and Poland emigrated to the United States and to St. Louis. By the 1940s there were close to 25 Orthodox synagogues in St. Louis.

These congregations for the most part did not have official rabbis at their helm and instead were established and led by laity interested in having a place to pray with a minyan, the quorum of 10 people required, according to Jewish law, for public prayer.

Eventually many of these developed into full-service synagogues with communal events, cemeteries, and holiday and life cycle celebrations.

This model of Orthodox community in St. Louis was akin to that in much of Eastern Europe; small synagogues in which to pray, run by knowledgeable and not-so-knowledgeable laity, all under the auspices and direction of the chief rabbi of the city.

In the late 19th century, the chief rabbi, well known for his scholarship and community leadership, was Rabbi Zacharya Yosef Rosenfeld. Though by the 1960s most of St. Louis' still extant Orthodox synagogues had their own rabbis, St. Louis did maintain the position of chief Orthodox rabbi and indeed was the last American city to do so.

Most of those early Orthodox synagogues are now gone, their members having passed on and their children and grandchildren, due to the relative lack of Jewish education in America in those days, having assimilated or moved to cities with larger observant Jewish populations. Only a handful of St. Louis' Orthodox synagogues remain from that era the oldest among them Bais Abraham.

Bais Abraham Congregation was founded by 25 members in 1894 in downtown St. Louis on Seventh Street. By 1929, the synagogue was thriving and it moved to a spacious synagogue building on Goodfellow Boulevard, and in 1961 to the Delmar Loop just east of Skinker Boulevard. …

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