Thursday, November 5, 2009

NY native on making St. Louis home


I admire Barry Rosenberg’s comprehensive assessment of the St. Louis Jewish community’s needs and recommendations for our future in his recent essay “Toward Thriving.” I read and comprehended as much as my internet-addled, child-distracted mind could muster. As a self-centered baby boomer, I brought the subject matter back to me and wondered, “What would cause me to put down roots in St. Louis in 2009 and beyond?”
Now that I’ve put that out there, let me add that I grew up in New York. So you have a pampered boomer who grew up among the nation’s most concentrated population of American Jewry. My needs were met: supportive family, good schools, and most importantly, good food. Let’s not underestimate the significance of this last need. Having a wide array of good bagels, deli and baked goods was indicative of a thriving Jewish community, as well as an environment that things Jewish were in demand, not only from our own people but also from the secular community at-large.

Thank goodness for the Bagel Factory and Kohn’s, to name two of our local treasures.
Growing up, at Passover, and during the High Holidays, gentile friends would wish an unsolicited “Happy Passover” and “Happy New Year.” It felt good to be acknowledged and accepted. Having lived in St. Louis on-and-off since 1985, I know that our city’s openness to different cultures and ideals can be a challenge. It’s less a religious mindset than a reserved, cautious “Show Me” approach. Now, I’m in television advertising, and I like to “show” ideas to people as often as possible. Our St. Louis Jewish community does a wonderful job of putting itself out there, serving the less fortunate and trying to make our world a better place, “Tikkun Olam.” Without taking an “evangelical” approach, I do believe there is room to proactively promote the causes, charities and outreach programs that are important to the Jewish community.

Paid and donated public service announcements on television and in other media can present a positive message that Jews in St. Louis are proud of their heritage, actively engaged and welcoming to newcomers. No, we are not recruiting or evangelizing; we are shedding a little sunlight on our culture and our causes.

And, St. Louis itself could use a little sunshine. I agree with Mr. Rosenberg and others that we must do whatever we can to help all of St. Louis thrive. The Jewish American of 2009 has many of the same desires as anyone else: make a good living so I can support my family; lead as vibrant an existence as possible with whatever energy is left over; try to leave a net-positive “kharmic footprint.”

Other than promoting bagels and pastrami, what can we do? Support one another and our community at-large. Advocate and enable a hospitable business and cultural environment. Help St. Louis to shine as we celebrate our own uniqueness. Aggressively pursue the qualities we want our region to embody. Look outward as we look inward. Be politically active and encourage openness rather than provincialism. Reach out to our academic institutions, such as Washington University, to welcome and nurture students whose time in St. Louis may last a few years or a lifetime.

I take it as a given that we are all trying to be the best people we can be, including the best Jews we can be. Now, let’s take that sense of self and purpose and help St. Louis to be the best it can be. Perhaps we can make St. Louis as inviting to others as we have discovered it to be for ourselves. And, hey, the food’s pretty good, too!

A native of Great Neck, N.Y., Bill Goodfriend oversees sports and political ad sales for Charter Media, an advertising sales arm of Charter Communications, in the Midwest. He lives in Clayton with his wife and son and is a member of Central Reform Congregation.

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