For some of these blog posts, finding information on the history of a landmark can be hard. Luckily, it seems the United Hebrew Congregation doesn’t lack any historical context. The most remarkable historic fact at first sight is that this is the first established congregation west of the Mississippi river. The congregation was founded around 1837, and hired their first rabbi in 1854. To put this into perspective: St. Louis had less than 20,000 residents in 1840 (and 160,000 by 1860, so it’s safe to assume this rabbi saw his congregation explode in numbers, if only he stayed longer than a year). Those increasing numbers made St. Louis a large city in just two decades, and undeniably the Gateway to the West, from where all pioneers would waver out westwards.
Like all those immigrants, the location of the congregation kept drifting west, too. Their spiritual founding was close to the Mississippi river on 2nd street, their first building on 5th, their next on 6th, then to 21st, on to Skinker (so far west, the city stopped naming their streets), and lastly followed its members to the suburbs in Chesterfield in 1980. From there on, it still operates and keeps being the first in some things. In 2006, they commissioned a Torah to be written by a woman, and today they indeed read from the world’s first Torah scroll written by a female scribe. I guess the United Hebrew Congregation can’t wait for the moon to be colonized; another first to be claimed.
This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. Every week, I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.