The History of the Young Israel of St. Louis

The Young Israel of St. Louis has been a revered constant in the Orthodoxy community for over 75 years and stands as a testament to the drive and devotion of its founders and vigor of its present membership. Throughout its history, the shul has played a vital part in the religious life of the entire city, contributing energy, funding and time to the larger Jewish community. When speaking of St. Louis as home, many are referring to the Young Israel of St. Louis.

Young Israel of St. Louis was started just before the beginning of World War II, by a cadre of committed young people. The group davened and started youth groups and an assortment of fundraising activities. As the shul developed, others joined them; young women, single and married, played an important role in developing the character of the organization. In the early 1940's, as many of the young men left to fight in the war, the minyan itself was suspended, but the organization remained vibrant. Social and fundraising efforts kept the fledgling operation afloat. With the return of the men after World War II, the membership grew and affiliation with the National Council of Young Israel strengthened the group. Soon the shul became a hub for observant families, attracting many couples who had grown up in Young Israel synagogues in other communities. The services were characterized by singing and an intelligent, challenging drasha. Some, drawn in by the shul's welcome and tune-filled services, stayed and set down roots.

The shul's first official rabbi was Rabbi Gerald Jacobs. He was followed by Rabbi Pelberg and Rabbi Yitzchok Abramson. After several moves that included a stint in the attic of another Orthodox shul as well as a room above a delicatessen, the group built its own permanent facility on Groby Road in University City. In 1969, Rabbi Simcha Krauss was hired as the new rabbi, and the shul developed further as a well-educated, deeply committed group of people. Young Israel welcomed newcomers with warmth and an opportunity to learn and grow religiously. The constants throughout were always the friendships, the programs and the learning.

In the 1980's the shul underwent a major change when Rabbi Krauss left for the Young Israel of Hillcrest, NY and Rabbi Jeffery Bienenfeld assumed the leadership. St. Louis has always had a large number of Orthodox shuls, but Young Israel represented a spirit of energy and innovation. Under Rabbi Bienenfeld's tutelage, the shul broadened its learning opportunities. It attracted a number of newly observant families and weekly classes increased for both men and women.

In the early 1990's with the change in the neighborhood and an influx of new families, the leadership of the shul recognized the need for a new location that would better suit the burgeoning membership. This endeavor sparked an outpouring of support and translated into a renewed zeal and enthusiasm for the shul. The entire community turned out for the parade that brought the Sifrei Torah into the new building, fittingly, on Erev Shavuot, 1994.

In 2007 Rabbi Bienenfeld and his family decided to fulfill their life-long dream and made Aliyah. His successor, Rabbi Moshe Shulman, together with his family, continue to lead our congregation with the same zeal for learning and communal leadership that has been the hallmark of the rabbinic leadership of Young Israel from its early days.

Today, on a Shabbat morning at Young Israel, in additional to the normal minyan infused with meaningful prayer and Torah study, you’ll find a dynamic hashkama minyan, an energetic teen minyan, youth groups for all ages, and a well attended Kiddush where members can socialize and strengthen relationships. You’ll find learning and shiurim before davening Shabbat morning as well as Shabbat afternoon, given both by Rabbis and learned lay-leaders. Every day of the week, in addition to daily minyan, there are ongoing regularly attended shiurim, morning and evening. At Thursday night Mishmar and Sunday morning after minyan the Beit Midrash is filled with the voice of Torah study of men and women, teens and adults. Our Scholar in Residence program brings the community together to enhance the opportunities for study and reflection on broad relevant issues facing the Jewish world.

Our day schools, Epstein Hebrew Academy and Yeshivat Kadimah High School, youth movements such as NCSY and Bnei Akiva, and community service organizations such as Torah Mitzion, and the Bnot Sherut all find their spiritual and communal center of gravity within the active membership of our Young Israel.

In recent years, young families have begun to return to St. Louis and set down roots. This renewed youthfulness and vitality in the Syangogue is evidenced in the number of baby strollers that can be seen in the parking lot on Shabbat morning!

In short, the Young Israel of St. Louis is a vibrant, dynamic shul which is the spiritual, communal and intellectual center of our community. It is more than just a Beit Tefillah (House of Prayer) or a Beit Midrash (House of Learning). It is a true Beit Knesset, a center for the gathering of the “community of Israel”.

The Young Israel of St. Louis is a place of many generations of people, from those who were here at its beginnings before World War II, to the newly married who arrived just a few months ago. All are welcome. Young Israel seeks to make them part of the adventure of Torah growth, love for Israel and community commitment that has flourished here in the friendly, gentle-paced Midwest.