a Jewish presence in the City of St. Louis
We started slowly, out of need. A few bright young St. Louis area couples with children nearing school age came to realize that they needed to act if they were to raise them as Jews. They had no congregational affiliations and the last nearby synagogue had followed its congregants out and away from the city limits. They did not like the idea of having the City, for many years home to several dozen Jewish congregations, totally devoid of a Jewish presence.
These couples wanted a special kind of Jewish home - a community where they could raise their children, sing and dance and pray together. They were looking for a community that was inclusive, gender-neutral, non-patriarchal, and spiritual.
Wedding their social consciousness to their burgeoning Jewish awareness, they decided, after much soul-searching, to create a new Jewish place of worship within the City of St. Louis. The group held services in a park during the summer of 1984 to get people interested about the new community. Central Reform Congregation was founded in 1984, with 30 families attending our first High Holiday services. The founding families chose the name "Central Reform Congregation" because they wanted the community to be both "central" in City location and "Central" in their lives. In 1985, CRC joined the Reform movement by joining the UAHC (now the URJ, Union for Reform Judaism).
Rabbi Susan Talve consulted with the founding families in 1984, as they determined what kind of community they wanted to create. In 1985, she was hired as a part-time rabbi for the congregation. Today, she serves our community as our Senior Rabbi. Rabbi Randy Fleisher was hired in 2000 to help meet the spiritual needs of our growing community. In 2008, Rabbi Ed Harris, one of our founding members and leaders for many year, was ordained as a rabbi. Rabbi Ed worked as a private practice psychologist and served part-time as a rabbi at CRC until 2014. In the Summer of 2014, CRC hired Rabbi Deana Sussman, a former Rabbinic Intern, as our full-time Rabbi Educator.
For years, we rented space around the City for our programs. Our office was above Straubs. We held our weekly Shabbat services at the First Unitarian Church, across the street from where our building now stands. We rented space for our High Holiday services, first at COCA and then at Westport Theatre, and then finally at the Chase Park Plaza, where we today welcome more than 2,000 individuals to services that are free and open to the entire community, with no tickets required.
More than thirty years later, believing more than ever that a desire to heal and transform the world demands that we not flee the problems of the inner city, we revel in our status as the City’s only Jewish congregation. Our voice is heard in discussions and plans for urban revitalization and our hands are busy in a variety of efforts aimed at revitalizing the area and improving life for our neighbors.
If our initial goal was modest, our successes have been tremendous. With the inspiration and insightful teaching of Rabbi Susan Talve, Rabbi Randy Fleisher, and Rabbi Deana Sussman, as well as the deep commitment of our lay leaders and members, we have created a vital faith community that looks for holy responses to all our life situations. People who never knew what holiness was are finding it in connecting with one another, in worshiping together, in studying Torah together, and in coming together just to experience the shelter of peace that we create together.
In 1999, we broke ground on our building in the Central West End. Our building - which we call Sukkat Shalom, or "Shelter of Peace," provides a holy space for not only our CRC programs but also for dozens of community events throughout the year.
Each year, hundreds of youth and adults participate in our education programs, and thousands of individuals worship with us during the High Holidays, on Shabbat, and at other holiday celebrations throughout the year. We have one of the most active congregation-based social justice programs in the region.
With no recruitment effort, our membership rolls grew exponentially, from 10 households in 1984 to approximately 750 households today. They join in response to their own personal spiritual impulses -- to walk with us on a holy path.