Friday, August 28, 2009

Next Dor Update: Synangogue 3000 Meeting

Monday and Tuesday, representatives of Next Dor will be hosted by Synagogue 3000 in Westchester NY. The retreat will bring together all five recipients of the Synagogue 3000 grant to talk about our plans and learn about each other as well as the program. The pre-work included some pretty interesting articles, which I've included below.

The retreat comes at a great time, considering that construction is well on its way. What will be interesting to see is how the other projects selected will be making use of their grant money.

To see where Synagogue 3000 is coming from, in terms of the research they are using to guide their program, check that out here here and here

We'll do our best to report back to you about what was said and how other cities are handling some of the issues we've talked about.

Shabbat Shalom
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jewish Community Survey

I got an email from the Executive Director of Moishe House today cluing me in to a community survey that is being run by a professor at NYU. Read on for the Scoop

Everyone loves a survey, especially when it helps them to write research on what is going on in the Jewish community (particularly around the question of, "what is the deal with this new generation?").

See the email below and if you feel like it, participate in the survey and let your voice be heard:

American Jewish leaders have been changing – but we don’t exactly know how. We think that leaders in their 20s and 30s are different from those in their 50s and 60s. And we imagine that the Boomers today differ from the Boomers two or three decades ago.

Leaders may vary in their hopes and fears; in the issues that capture their interest, and that drive them to act; and in the ways in which they see Jews, Judaism, and the world. They may differ in terms of their life experiences that have led them to be who they are today.

But, with all this said, we’re not sure of the extent of differences; and we certainly know little about the diverse views and interests of Jewish leaders across America.

To explore these issues, concerns that are critical to policy makers, philanthropists, and the Jewish public, I am inviting you to participate in, “The 2009 Survey of Leadership and American Jewish Life.” Whether you see yourself as a “Jewish leader” or not, and however old or young you may be, I’d like you to participate.

The survey is part of a larger effort to explore these and related issues, entitled, “The 2009 Avi Chai Study of American Jewish Leaders.” That effort draws upon the talents of six social scientists – younger and older, throughout the US – led by Prof. Jack Wertheimer, with a grant from the Avi Chai Foundation.

Please open the survey with this link. Simply hit Cntrl+Click: Jewish Leaders Survey

Or, you cut and paste this link in your browser:

As you begin to answer the questions, I think you’ll find that this survey is unlike any you’ve taken before, certainly any you’ve taken on Jewish matters. We raise some fairly complex issues in ways which I hope are both clearly articulated and genuinely stimulating.

How long will the survey take to complete? We think that you’ll get through the bulk of the questionnaire and arrive at the Demographics section within 15 minutes. If you’re willing and able to continue, we have 5-7 minutes of additional questions, after Demographics. Of course, you are free to stop at any time, but I hope you will complete as much of the survey as possible.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Politics in St. Louis get interesting

St. Louis is often accused of having an inferiority complex vis-a-vis Chicago and it looks like, if the latest political scandal is to be believed, that St. Louis is taking a few pages from the 'Chicago-style politics' we keep hearing about.
-Update Both Jeff Smith and Steve Brown have just announced their resignations.

First, State Senator Jeff Smith, a professor at Washington University and a politician for whom a number of my college buddies worked, is apparently under federal investigation for actions undertaken during the 2004 campaign.

Next, State Representative Steve Brown is expected to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy stemming from the same race for being involved in distributing anonymous information critical of Russ Carnahan (now a Representative from MO).

Finally, a Democratic political operative (what the hell is a political operative?) Milton H. "Skip" Ohlsen III, is being connected with a bombing that occurred in Clayton last year.

Just what the hell is happening?!

I understand how politicians could get tripped up in those pesky campaign finance laws, and might even want to write anonymous hate mail about their competition, but a Democratic operative who makes points with explosives?

This is St. Louis, not Kabul...

We'll keep our ears to the ground, but in a a small-town big-city like St. Louis, it shouldn't be long before more information comes out.
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Welcome (back) To St. Louis

Over the past two weeks, graduate students at St. Louis' institutions of higher learning have been moving in and getting situated. Many of them start classes this week. So now that you are here... or back for another year in St. Louis, you probably want to know what's happening.

A quick overview of St. Louis: For those of you from the East Coast, it is a real city, beyond the barriers of campus. There are a number of great areas in which to spend your time and money, and getting to know all of them can take some time.

We recommend South Grand, Tower Grove, Soulard, Lafayette Square, Benton Park, and the Central West End for urban destinations.

For those of you from smaller communities, St. Louis is unique in that it maintains a small-town city feel. People are friendly, helpful, and generally not totally self-absorbed. If someone invites you over for Shabbat, they are serious about the offer.

Nearly any activity that you are looking to get involved with, you will be able to find and there are a host of organizations in and outside of the Jewish community that can help you connect with those activities.

St. Louis isn't the largest Jewish community in the world, but it does have some incredibly Jewish neighborhoods. If you aren't from the area, it can seem like a daunting task to meet people who share your interests and level of observance (or lack thereof).

To connect with other grad students and young professionals, check out the Young Professionals Division of the Federation, Gesher City, JGrads, and Moishe House. Once the Next Dor house opens up, that should also be a fantastic resource to meet other people who share your interests.

To learn more about Israel Advocacy, hit up the St. Louis Israel Connection (SLIC)

For a community directory, listing congregations and basically anything else, check out

You can also send questions to thestloujew @

Welcome to St. Louis. Let us know how we can help make your transition easier.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Renting in St. Louis, Part Duex

While there are big stories brewing, involving Jeff Smith, the only Jewish State Senator in MO, and two new Jewy apps for the Palm Pre, we should check back in on our friends and see if all is well in new apartment paradise.

When we last left off with our protagonists, they had just signed a 2-year deal on a fantastic apartment in the Central West End at a great price.

My friend returned to Israel to finish up his service in the IDF, and his girl friend was back in Colorado for a week before joining him.

All seemed well in the world until. . .

I get a frantic text from the friend still in Colorado. I call her and she is clearly upset. The owner fired the woman he had hired to manage the leasing of the apartment, and she had called indicating that, since she had been fired, and the owner wanted to sell, not rent, that the deal was off.

So there they were, without an apartment, and about to both be thousands of miles away.

Now, I'm not a law school student, but I've spent enough time around them to understand the concept of contracts, and more specifically, breach of contract.

I was able to contact a friend who has the three of the most useful letters after his name: Esq. and fill him in on the situation.

He agreed that the whole thing was fishy and that the owner and leasing lady were in the wrong. So he went to work to restore a little bit of order and sanity to this ridiculous situation.

After several rounds of letters, emails, and conversations. . . not to mention a few months, the owner relented and decided to honor his contract.

Good news for my friends, who will be moving in tomorrow.

Good new for me, cuz I always need an extra place to crash in the West End.
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Renting in St. Louis Part 1

Renting an apartment can be stressful. Worries over the condition of the building, the location, safety vs. cost... it can be a real nightmare. The following is the true, and unfolding story of two young adults and their adventures in apartment hunting in St. Louis.

A good friend (the girlfriend of a childhood friend) just moved to St. Louis (from Israel) to begin her Masters in Social Work at Washington University (the top ranked program in the country).

Her boyfriend has been serving in the Israel Defense Forces for the past two years, but was able to get a few weeks off, during which they visited St. Louis and looked at apartments.

Knowing that she would be at Wash U, they scouted the usual locales, University City, Clayton, Richmond Heights, the Central West End, etc. They probably looked at 15 or 20 places and were growing disheartened that nothing looked good enough to them.

Finally, they day before they were going to leave, I got a call while at work from my ecstatic friends indicating they had found the perfect place.

I joined them to look it over and to read through the lease as a third pair of eyes. The place was pretty fantastic. Located at Maryland and Newstead, the large two bedroom has a fantastic open dining/living space in a building with a pool.

Not only had they found a place they were excited about, they had also managed to get it at a price under market value by signing a two-year lease.

But the joy would be short lived. Tune into tomorrow to hear what happened.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Signs Of The Times: The Professional Leaders Project

Over the past year or so, I've had the opportunity to join other Jewish Young Adults in speed mentoring, studying Jewish ethics, discussing issues vital to the American Jewish community, and fantastic networking. All of this was organized and paid for by the Professional Leaders Project, which just announced that, due to lack of funding, it would no longer be able to hold the events for which it had become known.

I was first connected to PLP through Moishe House. We were asked if we wanted to participate in an 8 month program which would consist of monthly flights to Washington, D.C. for which our only expense would be a fairly small registration fee.

Zuz and I jumped at the opportunity to get free flights to a city in which a number of friends lived. It was only after attending the events that we began to realize their true value.

Now, I won't say that the program was perfect. Sessions consisted of approximately 5 hours on a Sunday, beginning with discussions, culminating in a satellite broadcast of Donniel Hartman from Jerusalem, followed by more discussions.

For the several hundred dollars they spend on us per session, one might have expected a richer program, perhaps consisting of longer hours, deeper discussions, and fewer breaks. That being said, the true value that emerged, for me personally, was in the network of interested and engaged emerging Jewish leaders that I had the opportunity to meet. Their energy and perspective was a welcome change and I always felt re-enthused upon returning to St. Louis. We met other Moishe House residents from D.C., Philly, and elsewhere, and got to hear about all of the interesting programs and movements emerging all over the country.

Now, falling victim to both the economic situation and the unfortunate passing of one of the main donors to the organization, PLP is being forced to figure out how to maintain the connections and spirit of the organization without the capital it had counted on.

PLP has responded to the crises by creating a 'Virtual ThinkTank', which it hopes will keep the embers burning until the current crisis blows over. We certainly hope to see the organization get back on its feet and continue the great work they began.

Learn more about the Professional Leaders Project here.
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Hockey at the Hebrew Academy, Who Knew?

Last night, after a 5 hour drive back from Cincinnati, a good meeting with the Next Dor Board and Michael Staenberg, and a solid dinner at Pi, I was ready to call it a night.

That is, of course, until I got a phone call asking if I wanted to play some floor hockey at 9:30 PM.

There are certain things that I am often accused of. Chief among them is probably the inability to say no. But, when offered the opportunity to play hockey, it was only a matter of getting enough details to make it work.

Where was it? I don't have a stick, can you provide one? etc.

Turns out, not only was the venue Epstein Hebrew Academy, the game goes down every Sunday night.

For a pickup game, it was pretty legit; real goals, goalie equipment, 15 minute halves. . . I got pretty worn out pretty quickly.

Getting home close to midnight (on a work night), drenched in sweat, exhausted, bruised, and sore. . .I'm still pretty pleased with the decision to play. In fact, I may make it a part of the Sunday routine.
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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Moishe House Reopens!

This Friday night, Moishe House St. Louis will be reopening in its new location in Clayton. What does that mean for you?

Well, if you are like most of the MOT in STL, it probably means the location is a bit closer to where you live, and may even be walkable... no word yet if it is in the Eruv or not.

With Shabbat dinner this week, Moishe House in St. Louis will continue to provide informal opportunities for Jewish young adults to connect and build community in a comfortable environment.

The deal is this, you bring the drinks, appetizers, or dessert, and Moishe House provides the main course. Not a bad deal, right?

If you or someone you know might be interested in getting connected, email moishehousestl at gmail dot com.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Hershey Novack, St. Louis' Chabad Rabbi on Campus

The St. Lou Jew sat down with Rabbi Hershey Novack to discuss talk about Chabad and the life of a Shaliach. All I knew about Chabad before coming to St. Louis was that they are very religious and like to drink. To see how my preconditions held up, read on!

Rabbi Hershey Novack is pretty ubiquitous in St. Louis. I first met him around my Birthright trip to Israel (he has since lead trips for over 500 students), during which we debated theology, philosophy, and why Ashkenazi Hebrew makes my skin crawl. While Chabad's (Rohr center for Jewish Life) programmatic offerings tend to center on the undergraduate and graduate student populations at Washington University, he has also been involved outside of this realm, supplying a Sukkah to Moishe House, and doing a L'Chaim or two for Simchat Torah at Bais Abe.

Born in Chicago, Hershey grew up in LA, as spent time as a Yeshiva student in something like 15 countries teaching and learning, meeting broad range of Jewish people of all ages. Hershey was married to Chana in NYC 1 week before 9/11/01.

The St. Lou Jew: How did you end up with this gig?

Hershey Novack: It was last day of Shevah Brachot, there was this black pall of ash above NY, and I wanted to do something so I found an outlet with the American Red Cross as a chaplain. I worked at the family center where all these organizations set up shop for victims’ families and later at Ground Zero. The campus rabbi piece was at the encouragement of my wife. We looked at a number of opportunities, and St. Louis was the best fit. I Came to STL in Fall 02. I was 24 or 25 at the time. It was an incredible entrepreneurial experience.

SLJ: How did you come to Chabad in the first place?
HN: My parents did not grow up Chabad, although my some of my grandparents did and rejected it. I grew up and studied in the Chabad educational system.

SLJ: So what is Chabad?
HN: Chabad is a branch of the Chasidic movement, which was founded by Rabbi Israel Ball Shemtov about 300 years ago. “Chabad” is a philosophical approach to Jewish belief and practice. It is an acronym for chochma, binah, daat which means the spark, the articulation, and the physical action.

Most recognizably in the modern era, Chabad is an organization within the global Jewish community, with full-time reps (we call them Shluchim) in something like 80 countries, almost 50 states, and serving 150 campuses. I’m frankly unaware of another organization that parallels Chabad in scope, which can make it hard for people to grasp what Chabad is today. On one foot, it’s like combining a Chasidic intellectual movement with an Israeli youth movement, adding a serious social services component. Couple this with a philosophy based on the inherent sacred value of every individual and offer it pretty much wherever Jews are.

Typically, Chabad’s don’t have membership dues, because if you are Jewish you automatically belong. This is the parish model as opposed to the membership model.

SLJ: What do you see as your goals in the community?
HN: There is an inheritance to every generation of Jews and I want to connect people to that. At any given moment, I want to make Judaism one hair more relevant for each individual person. I would love to see people move Judaism up in importance in their lives. We live in an individualistic age. Just as our faces are different, so are our opinions. We've never had these many choices as Jews in terms of how to live our lives, and I think there is a greater responsibility that comes with that. I think that we Jews have an incredible message for 2009. We can provide meaning and substance to people's lives, and we need to do this in an accessible way.

SLJ: What are your boundaries as a movement?
HN: We have the opportunity to connect people with their heritage as opposed to a way of limiting or putting up walls. In terms of the identity of Chabad, we obviously believe there was a revelation at Mount Sinai and we measure our actions by the code of Jewish law. In terms of participants we are blessed with an incredibly rich and diverse community; there is no litmus test at the door. At Chabad you can meet students from virtually every part of the campus, democrats, republicans and anarchists, Zionists and people who are convinced that Hamas is just. Seriously. I think that part of the reason for this diversity is because we look past the labels and hyphens.

SLJ: There are a number of people who have some vague negative feelings towards Chabad. Where do you think that comes from?
HN: The best way to dispel myths is with light and love, and I invite readers of this blog to contact me directly with any and all questions. I can be found all the usual ways, FB, email etc.
Probably the biggest misconception about Chabad is that people perceive Chabad as an all or nothing type of movement. You are either in or out. I don't think our beliefs or practices are an all or nothing system. I actually found reference to this notion in Maimonides’ letters which is cool. Some people could interpret outreach (or “engagement”) as intrusive. Which is obviously not anyone’s goal. We strive to see each person as an individual and calibrate our actions accordingly.
There are also two opposing sets of misconceptions – some people say that Chabad is for uninvolved or unaffiliated Jews only, while others think that is for religious people. Similarly, some think that the goal is to make people orthodox, while others say that it is not orthodox enough. As I see it, when it comes to our core Jewish identity we are exactly the same. If I would have my way, I would like to remove the label of “Orthodox Jew” and similarly conservative and reform Jew from our collective Jewish psyche. I suppose these are useful tools to distinguish philosophies and practices, synagogues and summer camps, however, they do not accurately reflect our core connection and our shared sense of Jewishness. Instead they divide. This plays out for us that we have a challenge in getting people through the door the first time. We have a data set about people who participate in Chabad, and that the likelihood of repeat participation is very high, our challenge is lowering the barrier for the first encounter.

SLJ: What is the largest issue we face as Jews today?
HN: I think so much of what is alleged to ail the Jewish community (declining affiliation, philanthropic shrinkage, etc) are really symptoms of a larger problem which boil down to the lack of education, Jewish specifically. It sounds cliché but more Jewish Americans know the name of Jesus' mother than Moses'. It is scary when People of the Book couldn’t even identify the names of these books in a police lineup. Instead of fixing symptoms, we need to fix Jewish education across the board—formal, informal, experiential—and I think that women and men of Chabad play a vital role in this. It is our responsibility to acknowledge the difficulties and try to work through them. The great sages have grappled with our tradition throughout the ages and now it’s our turn. Let’s do it together.

If you have questions for Hershey about Chabad, how to get a free meal, what the place of women is in the movement, or why Chabadnikim have pictures of the Rebbe on the wall, he can be reached at @

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ok, so maybe you are interested in what Representative Carnahan had to say last night... That's why guest blogger @mrgeller wrote up what he heard last night.

A public option for healthcare coverage seems inevitable as part of the reform, according to Rep. Russ Carnahan, who greeted representatives of the Jewish community Wednesday evening. Healthcare reform and Middle East policy dominated discussion when the congressmen met with constituents in the Clayton home of Carl and Lynn Lyss, long-time activists of the Jewish community. After a brief introduction, and special note of involvement with the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, those in attendance were allowed to ask questions.
While the topics covered, including preventing a nuclear Iran and President Obama's statements on settlements in Israel, were some of the heated issues in the news, the congressman steered clear of any firm position statements. His commitment to Israel was evident; however, the congressman balanced this support by stressing the importance of Obama's engagement of the Muslim community through his speech in Cairo, Egypt, in early June.
The congressman is holding town-hall meetings to hear from constituents on issues related to health reform. He noted that this process has been interesting due to the interruptions now caused by protesters. He joked that it was an unofficial badge of honor among members of Congress to have made it onto several news programs and Internet video clips.
The next town hall meeting is tonight, August 6, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road, St. Louis, Mo. The doors open at 6 p.m.
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Autiomadic at the Gramophone Tonight

While, in any other week, meeting Congressman Russ Carnahan last night would have been the highlight of of the week, The St. Lou Jew is looking forward to the debut of the local group Autiomadic at the Gramophone tonight.

I'm sure everyone wants to hear about how cool Congressman Carnahan was, how he came across as reasonable and thoughtful, and it's true, but that was last night, tonight, The Gramophone is the place to be to hear the musical equation that postulates that a DJ plus a drummer equals a good time.

With Alex "Kahn-man" Kahn on the wheels of steel and one of our own on drums, the show is going to be fun.

With no cover, at one of St. Louis' best places to catch live music (not to mention smoke free), the Gramophone is definitely what is happening tonight.

Doors at 9.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Night Downtown

For as much as we love talking about and being in the city, The St. Lou Jew spends fairly little time downtown. So when we heard that Lupe Fiasco would be performing at the final 'Live On The Levee' show, we figured it was about time to get back into the heart of the city.

Being the responsible citizens that we are, we decided to take the Metrolink down to Laclede's landing, where the show was already underway.

The turnout was immense. There were several thousand people under the arch. For those of you who don't know Lupe's music, some of the more well-known songs include Paris Tokyo and Superstar.

Lupe had the crowd surging, and the fireworks over the river were a nice finale to the show.

Not wanting to call it a night that early (plus having to deal with a packed Metrolink), we decided to hoof it to Mosaic, a tapas bar on Washington Avenue.

When we first arrived, it had the typical Washington Avenue vibe going on. That is to say that people were standing around trying to look blasé and cool. So we took matters into our own hand and started a dance party that lasted until the bar closed down.

Unfortunately, once Mosaic started closing down, we realized that there weren't many other options. Rue 13 is known for its 80's night, but also its cover, which took it out of contention. We wanted to hop back on the Metro, but past midnight, there is no service, which makes it awfully hard to use as a designated driver service.

While waiting on the corner of Tucker and Washington Avenue for a ride, we were treated to a St. Louis spectacle. Everyone driving by had their stereos bumping, sub-woofers thumping, trying to look cool. We saw the same motorcycles drive by several times, and a few SUVs with girls sitting on top of the roof, or hanging out the windows.

I've seen a bit of this on the Loop before, but it was magnified on Washington. It would be kind of funny to do some type of live broadcast from down there to put that scene on exhibit.

Another interesting thing about standing at that corner is that if you are standing on the North East corner looking South, you can't tell that you are in St. Louis. What I mean is that all you see are large buildings in all directions, it really feels like a much more metropolitan area. Too bad you can walk just a block North and see nothing on three sides.

The downtown portion of the night ended pretty early, cuz there just wasn't that much of interest on Wash Ave it we couldn't convince everyone to check out the Broadway Oyster Bar (a St. Lou Jew Favorite).

We'll probably head back there soon, though, now that that rooftop of the City Museum is open.

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