B’nai El is a congregation with a long and rich history. Founded in 1852 as a combination of congregations B’nai Brith and Emanu El, B’nai El became the first congregation to build it’s own building west of the Mississippi River, at the corner of 6th Street and Cerre. Due to its octagonal shape and the turret-like structures at the top, this building became known as the “Coffee Mill.”
After a brief period of existence as a traditional orthodox congregation, B’nai El joined the Reform movement and in 1874 was among the founding congregations of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC – now the Union for Reform Judaism). During the last part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, under the Leadership of Rabbi Moritz Spitz, B’nai El Congregation moved out of the “Coffee Mill” and owned buildings: first at 11th and Chouteau, and then at Spring and Flad in the city of St. Louis.
In 1920, Rabbi Julian Miller took over the reins of B'nai El in place of the retiring Rabbi Spitz. Rabbi Miller led the congregation through the difficult years of daepression and war, always serving as an inspiration to the members, and always keeping B'nai El as a family. He also led the congregation as it moved to its fourth location at the Corner of Clara and Delmar. Rabbi Miller retired in 1956 and to this day is remembered as a kind and caring member of the B'nai El family.
The ten commandments plaques in our
sanctuary formerly stood in our old building
in the Central West End, at Clara and Delmar.
In taking over for Rabbi Miller, Rabbi Bertram Klausner came into an active, growing congregation that was also starting to move west. Only a few years into his tenure it became clear that the Clara and Delmar facility was not going to be sufficient much longer. Thanks to the hard work of Boris Mackler, Reese Weingart and others too numerous to be mentioned, B’nai El was able to purchase a piece of land just west of Spoede Road on Highway Forty, a two lane road that came out of St. Louis and continued into the countryside.
The move out to the suburbs was a major change for B’nai El, and as the congregation grew under Rabbi Klausner, and after his 1974 retirement under Rabbi Gerald Levy, B’nai El was able to add a full sanctuary (making the old one the social hall), an expanded lobby, and new office space. Even with the growth in both members and facility, B’nai El always remained true to its family feeling.
Since Rabbi Levy’s departure in 1984, B’nai El has undergone significant changes. We added, in 1988, an additional wing to the building that includes a Chapel, a new rabbi’s study and a Youth Lounge. Although the congregation has become smaller since the 1980’s, the family feeling and caring for one another has only increased over time. Since then as well, in addition to our Rabbis, we have been capably led and cared for by Dan Brodsky, our Director of Music. B’nai El also secured its future with the opening of an endowment fund, thanks in large part to the generosity of Harlene and Marvin Wool.
B’nai El congregation is proud to have Dan Brodsky, our Cantorial Soloist for over twenty years, who brings his love of music to create meaningful, lively services every week. In addition, Rabbi Lynn Goldstein, our Director of Education, is moving our religious school in a progressive new direction by implementing an interactive curriulum, inter-generational Torah study, and incorporating Judaic teachings into everyday life.
As we transition to a new era, B’nai El is looking forward to a future as a strong and vital congregation, with many more chapters to be written in our history. We invite you to join us as we move forward together, as a family.
Come and find your family at B’nai El Congregation.
The Ner Tamid (Eternal Light)
from our old building in the Central West End
is now proudly displayed in the lobby of our Frontenac home