A Jewish Classic in the Delmar Loop
A University City rabbi takes a look at the city's Jewish roots.
When older members of Bais Abraham, a Modern Orthodox congregation and the only remaining Jewish house of worship in the University City Delmar Loop gather at the synagogue they often reminisce about the old days in the neighborhood. Fifty years or so ago, the Loop was the central hub of St. Louis's Jewish community and home to many synagogues.
Though during the 1960s and 1970s, all of the Loop's synagogues except for Bais Abraham migrated west. However, the remnants of this once bustling Jewish community and its many institutions can still be detected. On almost every block in the Loop, churches and public buildings with telltale signs of their Jewish origins catch the eye. These include windows bearing Jewish stars, buildings facing east toward Jerusalem, cornerstones with Hebrew writing and stone facades with etched menorahs and Hebrew words. Two of the more prominent such buildings are the present COCA building which was home to Congregation B'nai Amoona, a Conservative synagogue now located in Creve Coeur and Washington University's music building once home to Shaare Emeth Congregation, a Reform synagogue now also located in Creve Coeur.
Back in its Jewish heyday, the streets of the Loop were populated not only by synagogues, but also by kosher bakeries, butchers, and shops.
Bais Abraham Congregation affectionately known as "Bais Abe," was founded 117 years ago in downtown St. Louis. Like all of St. Louis's synagogues, it moved west through the decades, first to 14th Street, then to the corner of Goodfellow and Wells Streets, which it occupied from 1930 until 1960 and finally, 50 years ago, to its home in the Delmar Loop.
"Bais Abraham and the Delmar Loop are a natural fit,"said Rabbi Hyim Shafner, Bais Abraham's current rabbi.
"The semi-urban Delmar Loop is part of what gives Bais Abraham its unique character, including its diversity and dynamic feeling."
Today, Bais Abe's membership includes people with strong Jewish backgrounds along with Jews who find themselves on a personal religious journey and (though Judaism does not proselytize or encourage conversion), people of non-Jewish backgrounds who are engaged in the study and practice that Orthodox Judaism requires for conversion.
Because Orthodox Jews are not permitted to drive on the weekly Jewish Sabbath from sundown on Friday until dark on Saturday, many of Bais Abe's members live in the neighborhoods surrounding the synagogue. Some live in the apartments of the Loop itself; others own houses in Parkview, Ames Place, University Heights, University Park and University Hills - proudly contributing to the rebirth of Bais Abraham's classic neighborhood, in which for five unbroken decades it has chosen to remain in the University City Delmar Loop.