Shaare Emeth was the first Reform Jewish congregation established west of the Mississippi River. The congregation’s first Temple was located at 17th and Pine in 1869. Then, as St. Louis grew and expanded westward, the Temple relocated in 1897 to Lindell and Vandeventer in St. Louis City, in 1932 to the corner of Delmar and Trinity in University City, and in 1974 to our present location at the corner of Ladue and Ballas Roads in Creve Coeur.
1867 - Cornerstone of first Shaare Emeth building laid at 17th and Pine
1869-1886 - Rabbi Solomon Sonneschein became 1st Rabbi
1870 - First Religious school class established
1880 - Ladies Auxiliary organized
1882 - Sermon preached in English for the first time
1887-1919 - Rabbi Samuel Sale became next Rabbi (Emeritus 1919-1937)
1897 - Building at Lindell and Vandeventer purchased
1906 - First Adult Education class began
1910 - Junior Congregation and Men’s group organized
1911 - Women admitted to full membership
1919 - 1929 Rabbi Louis Witt
1919 - Three women elected to Temple Board
1929 - Delmar and Trinity property purchased
1929 - 1954 Rabbi Julius Gordon became next Rabbi
1932 - Move to building at Delmar and Trinity
1939 - First Bar Mitzvah celebrated at Shaare Emeth
1955-1959 - Rabbi Burton Levinson became next Rabbi
1959-1971 - Rabbi Julius J. Nodel became next Rabbi
1964 - Shaare Emeth Preschool opens with 24 children
1965 - Young Adult Congregation organized
1967 - Celebration of 100th Anniversary
1970-1998 - Cantor Ed Fogel becomes cantor
1970 - Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman named co-rabbi
1971-2004 - Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman becomes Senior Rabbi
1974 - Religious school and office building dedicated at Ladue and Ballas
1980 - Dedication of Synagogue complex at Ladue and Ballas.
1984 - Successful “Burn the Mortgage” Campaign
1987 - 120th Anniversary celebration
1988 - Shaare Emeth summer camp program initiated
1992-1995 - Project Joshua and Experiment in Jewish Education
1995 - Congregation begins hosting “Room At The Inn” for the homeless.
1996 - Clergy are permitted to wear traditional religious garb
1996 - Naming of the Shirlee Green Preschool at Shaare Emeth
1997 - Naming of the Bohm Family Campus
1998 - First Mitzvah Day
1999 - 2003 Cantor Ken Jaffe becomes second Cantor
2001 - Dedication of the Stiffman Sanctuary
2003 - Completion of additions to the Bohm Family Campus
2003-2007 - Scott Levin serves as liturgical soloist
2004 - Rabbi James Bennett becomes Senior Rabbi
2007 - Cantor Seth Warner becomes Cantor of the congregation.
2007 - Celebration of the 140th anniversary of Shaare Emeth
2013 - B'nai El Congregation ceases existing as a congregation, B'nai El families become part of Shaare Emeth, and B'nai El and Shaare Emeth members begin a joint venture to create a center for adult learning under the name The B'nai El Collaborative. B'nai El later breaks this initiative and departs Shaare Emeth.
2014 - Rabbi Jonah Zinn is hired as a third rabbi to specialize in working with our children and young families
2014 - Congregation B'nai Torah of St. Charles County, including its members and assets, becomes part of Shaare Emeth.
by Rabbi Emeritus Jeffrey Stiffman
In 1865, 40 members of B’nai El, then an Orthodox congregation, formed a Temple Association in order to raise funds for a Reform synagogue. The following year the association bought a lot at 17th and Pine and with the laying of a cornerstone in June, 1867, adopted the name Shaare Emeth. It became the first congregation in St. Louis established as a Reform congregation. Rabbi Solomon Sonneschein was the first rabbi, serving from 1869-1886. He was a leader of American Reform Judaism who participated in writing its first platform in 1885. In 1870, Shaare Emeth opened a religious school for boys and girls. Six years later, the Ladies Auxiliary was organized. During the years at 17th and Pine, the Congregation hosted the Second Baptist church for Sunday services when their church was destroyed in a fire. Thus began a long association of the two congregations.
Rabbi Samuel Sale became rabbi in 1897, retiring in 1919, and remaining beloved Emeritus until his death in 1937. He brought the Congregation to new prominence. As the members of Shaare Emeth moved west, the Congregation put the Pine Street property up for sale. In 1897, a new synagogue at Lindell and Vandeventer, in midtown St. Louis, was dedicated. In 1906, an adult education program was initiated. In 1910, the Men’s Group and Junior Congregation came into being. Women were granted full membership in 1911. In 1919, Rabbi Louis Witt succeeded Rabbi Sale, serving until 1929. In that same year, the first three women were elected to the board of directors.
In the early 1920s, it was clear that members of the Congregation were again moving west. In 1929 Shaare Emeth purchased the Egyptian Building at 6900 Delmar in University City and developed plans for a new synagogue complex at that location. While the new synagogue was under construction, the Congregation was hosted by the Second Baptist Church for services. The Delmar-Trinity campus was dedicated in 1932. Shaare Emeth gained national prominence when Rabbi Julius Gordon became spiritual leader in 1929 until his untimely death in 1954. Rabbi Gordon was a noted orator who attracted many Jews and non-Jews to his religious services and lectures. In 1939, Joseph Glik became the first Bar Mitzvah in the Congregation. It would not be until 1972 that Barbara Walts became the first Bat Mitzvah.
The Congregation survived the difficult Depression of the 1930s by various means of fundraising, including “passing the plate” at worship services. The mortgage was not burned until the early 1940s.
In 1954 when Rabbi Gordon died while on vacation, Rabbi Joseph Rosenbloom, his assistant, became acting rabbi while a search for a successor was carried out. Rabbi Burton Levinson served as Senior Rabbi from 1955 to 1959. In 1959. Rabbi Julius J. Nodel became Senior Rabbi, serving until 1971. During his tenure, the Congregation added classrooms and a new Youth Lounge to the campus. In 1965, the Young Adult Congregation was founded by Assistant Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, who served as its first rabbi. Shaare Emeth participated in a pilot national dialogue program with Trinity Presbyterian Church. The program was then adopted nationally.
The westward move of the Jewish population resulted in a loss of membership in the late 1960s. In 1967, the Congregation purchased the land at Ladue and Ballas Roads in Creve Coeur for future use. That year, a number of events commemorated its one hundredth anniversary.
In 1969, the Congregation rejected a proposal by the Board that the synagogue relocate to Creve Coeur. A division within the congregation over the issue took years to heal. The Congregation engaged its first cantor, Edward R. Fogel, in 1970. He served with distinction and became president of the American Conference of Cantors. In 1970, Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman returned to St. Louis as co-rabbi. In 1971, he succeeded Rabbi Nodel as Senior Rabbi, one of the youngest rabbis to serve in such a position at a major Congregation. In December 1971, at the suggestion of the lay leadership and Rabbi Stiffman, the Congregation voted to build a school on the Creve Coeur property. Minna Fendell became the first woman president in 1971. The school was completed in 1973. The Congregation immediately began to grow, as many families in the western area wished to join. Many auxiliary meetings and other activities moved to the new building. In 1975, the St. Louis Conservatory and School of the Arts (CASA) made arrangements to rent the Trinity and Delmar facility for use during non-religious service time. In 1978, CASA made an offer to the congregation to purchase the building. The congregation rented the building for major religious services while a new sanctuary was under construction.
The present Stiffman Sanctuary - then known as the Frank Sanctuary - and the Ida Pasternak Chapel were dedicated in December 1980. The Congregation continued to grow in size and in staff. In 1982, Rabbi Susan Talve became an Assistant Rabbi and the first woman congregational rabbi in St. Louis.
A successful “Burning the Mortgage” campaign was completed in 1984. In that year, the Fred and Elsie Deutsch Scholar-in-Residence program began. It has become one of the major adult educational programs of the Jewish community. In 1987, a dinner featuring analyst, George Will, marked the 120th anniversary of the Congregation. A major step was taken in 1988 with the founding of Shaare Emeth Summer Camp. It has grown into the largest congregational camp program in our community, now including Camp Micah for pre-schoolers and Camp Emeth for older children. The Congregation engaged in Project Joshua, a major self-study, in 1992-94. This resulted in many changes in structure and programming. In 1994-95, in recognition of the excellence of our Religious Education Program under the direction of Marsha Grazman, the Congregation was one of six chosen to pilot the Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE), which now has become a major national program.
In 1995, the Congregation became the only synagogue to participate in “Room at The Inn,” providing shelter for homeless women and children. The growth of the Congregation mandated expansion of the facilities. Beginning in 1995, a Space Task Force studied the problem. Its work culminated in the new additions completed in 2003. In 1996, the Board voted to rescind a decades-old policy that forbade the clergy from wearing tallitot and kippot.
In 1997, a partnership with “The Rock Church” was instituted. The first “Mitzvah Day” was held in 1998 and quickly became a major impetus for the “Seeds of Justice” social action program.
Cantor Fogel retired in 1998. He was succeeded by Cantor Ken Jaffe, who served from 1999-2003. Due to the generosity of the Frank family, the sanctuary was renamed the Stiffman Sanctuary in 2001. In November 2003, Rabbi James Bennett arrived to assume the position of Senior Rabbi-Elect of the Congregation. He and Rabbi Stiffman shared the pulpit until the retirement of Rabbi Stiffman July 1, 2004. Rabbi Bennett became Senior Rabbi at that time. Mr. Scott Levin was engaged as liturgical soloist from 2003 until 2007. Cantor Seth Warner became the cantor of Shaare Emeth in January 2007.