Kol Rinah President Randi Mozenter, a clinical psychologist, spends plenty of time thinking about people struggling with illness, hospitalizations, anxiety and depression during the pandemic.
She also thinks about the Conservative congregation’s striking, renovated building in Clayton and how much respite a place of worship can provide to people during difficult times.
“It’s really hard … knowing that we’re at the point now where we could be using the building and having big services and great programs, and not being able to do that is difficult, but health comes first,” Mozenter said.
In spite of that obstacle, Mozenter and other Kol Rinah leaders still have plenty of reason to celebrate.
After five years of work and millions of dollars spent, the congregation has a modern space with plenty of room for when large crowds are able to gather again.
The leaders see the new space as the final necessary piece in the merger between Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel and Shaare Zedek, which joined to form Kol Rinah in 2013.
“I think there were a lot of people who didn’t think we could pull it off, both internally and externally, and it’s really gratifying to see how many of our members, our community and people outside the community have supported us and our mission and really helped us get this done,” Mozenter said.
After BSKI and Shaare Zedek congregations agreed to merge, despite some congregants’ resistance, and operate in the latter’s building on Hanley Road in University City, leaders determined that the new synagogue, Kol Rinah, needed a fresh start in a different building.
Daniel Rosenthal, Kol Rinah vice president of development, said: “My joke was always, if you are a newlywed and you are asked which set of in-laws would you like to live with, what would your answer be? Probably neither, and that was an impetus.”
In 2015, the congregation agreed to a building exchange with the Journey, a Christian church that had a location on Hanley Road in Clayton.
Kol Rinah is nearing completion of its new building in Clayton. All photos: Bill Motchan
“We really think of this site as beshert (destiny), because it’s absolutely a midpoint between the two legacy congregations,” Rosenthal said.
The Journey and Kol Rinah have since shared space while construction crews renovated the buildings.
Patterhn Ives, an architecture firm in Clayton, designed the remodeled building, and Lawlor Construction did the renovations, which cost about $5 million, according to the congregation.
Philanthropist and developer Michael Staenberg guaranteed a multimillion dollar loan to the congregation and donated money for some finishing touches to the building.
The new space features an 8,000-square-foot addition, which includes the congregation’s main sanctuary, which can hold about 250 people. The chapel has a 100-person capacity, and a community room can accommodate 250 people.
“In your traditional, baby-boomer synagogue, you had this enormous sanctuary, and you didn’t have a lot of meeting rooms,” Rosenthal said. “In the new way we practice Judaism, it’s all about flexibility and having multiple services. Multiple, smaller assembly spaces were much more beneficial to us than one large room.”
The congregation built a basement beneath the main sanctuary, which it plans to use for an expanded early childhood center. The program has about 80 children and still operates in the University City building. The space can hold 120 children. The congregation hopes to finish renovations and move the early childhood program there by the end of next year.
The congregation is also working on a library, office space and youth lounge, which it hopes to complete by February. The building also features stained glass and art from Shaare Zedek and BSKI.
Staenberg said he decided to guarantee the Kol Rinah loan rather than make an outright donation.
“You give a person a fish, they eat for a day, but how do you inspire the community?” Staenberg asked. “You had two synagogues that merged, how do you come together and build a new facility? And I had to motivate them to do it. … I don’t belong to this Jewish institution, but I believe in them.”
Still, once the congregation had done most of the fundraising and completed much of the construction, Staenberg donated more than $300,000 to stain brick and limestone on the exterior, install new windows and enhance the landscaping. He also is purchasing 10 sculptures from Denver artist Mark Wren for the property.
“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” Staenberg said. “We want everyone to say, ‘What’s in here?’ ”
Kol Rinah Rabbi Noah Arnow said the new synagogue is like “having a really wonderful, big secret that you can’t share with anybody because right now you can have such small groups in our building safely, and I just wish that we could actually share this amazing accomplishment and this spectacular sacred space with our whole community … and I can’t wait until we are able to do that.”
Writer Bill Motchan contributed to this report.