Rabbi Randy’s chai celebration; NCJW’s Couturier

Rabbi Randy Fleisher.

Rabbi Randy Fleisher, shown here in 2011, has become an integral part of Central Reform Congregation. 




Everything’s gonna be alright 

If pictures were used to explain the meaning of certain words, no doubt Randy Fleisher’s headshot would be found alongside “mensch.” The Central Reform Congregation rabbi personifies the definition of all-around good guy, kind soul and humble spiritual leader not only to members of his own congregation but to pretty much anyone who knows him.

So beloved is Rabbi Randy, as he is known, that CRC is holding a party to honor his 18 years of service to the congregation and the St. Louis Jewish community. And what better way to celebrate than in a style indicative of the granola-crunching, guitar-strumming, shaggy-haired rabbi himself? That’s right; expect a hippie dippy festival in the vein of Woodstock that will shine a light on peace, love and groovy music.

Dubbed Sukkahstock, the party will take place starting at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19 outdoors, by CRC’s sukkah, at the synagogue located at 5020 Waterman Ave. (the event will move inside if the weather fails to cooperate). Admission is free and the entire community is welcome. S’mores — with vegan marshmallows, of course — and adult beverages will be served free of charge, though attendees are encouraged to bring a picnic dinner. And while children are welcome, the evening is geared toward adults.

After a Havdalah service at 6:18 p.m., attendees will be treated to a live concert, featuring several local musicians as well as headliner Billy Jonas. No, he isn’t one of the Jonas brothers, though Billy is a nationally known Jewish performer, singer-songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist and educator. According to his website, he “has perfected the art of the neo-tribal hootenanny with audiences around the globe. Using voice, guitar and industrial re-percussion, each concert is a soul-spelunking, heart healing, joy-filled journey.” Sounds far out, doesn’t it?

Apparently, Rabbi Randy and Billy Jonas go way back to their days at Camp Thunderbird in Bemidji, Minn.

Suzanne Epstein-Lang, one of the organizers of Sukkahstock, said she and her husband, David Lang, got engaged just as Rabbi Randy joined the congregation.

“He was with us through our engagement, officiated our wedding, set our mezuzah in our first new home together, prayed with us in the worst times, gave our babies their Hebrew names and was such a fixture in our vocabulary that our eldest daughter mistakenly believed that her Raggedy Andy doll was a Rabbi Randy doll,” said Epstein-Lang.  

“When we first met Rabbi Randy, we knew he was smart, warm and shared our values, but it is only 18 years later that we truly realize how lucky we are to have him as our rabbi and mentor,” she added.

Mark your calendar, fashionistas 

The annual Couturier Sale hosted by the National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis at its Resale Shop, 295 N. Lindbergh Blvd., is slated to begin Thursday, Oct. 24. Expect to find great buys on gently worn designer clothes, shoes, handbags, jewelry and other accessories, the proceeds of which help fund dozens of charitable projects supported by NCJW.

Couturier kicks off with a preview night from 4-8 p.m., Oct. 24 with a $10 donation at the door. There is a VIP preview from 1-4 p.m. that day where you can shop all of the designer items before anyone else. All VIP tickets must be purchased in advance and are $50. To purchase tickets, go to www.ncjwstl.org.  

Couturier opens to the public on Friday, Oct. 25 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 26 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. On Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 28-29, what merchandise remains from the sale will be 25 percent off.

U. City strong

I am involved in a nonprofit racial equity project called Before Ferguson Beyond Ferguson founded by Dick Weiss, a former colleague from the Post-Dispatch who once served on the Jewish Light Board of Trustees. Dick enlisted a team of journalists, myself included, to highlight the challenges that St. Louis families of color have faced over generations in getting a quality education and securing their purchase of the American Dream. By focusing on individual families —portraying the everyday-ness of their lives in the 1920s, the 1930s, right up to the present day—we hope to inspire citizens to advocate for progress and reform.

On Sunday, I wrote a story that appeared in the Post about Judy Gladney, 67, who was among the first African Americans to integrate University City schools in the mid-1960s. The story was timed to coincide with Judy’s 50th high school reunion this weekend, which she at first wasn’t planning to attend. But the prospect of the reunion caused her to reflect on the role she and her late ex-husband, Eric Vickers, who graduated from U. City High in 1970, had played in the life of this unique community.

Both Judy and Erica, who was an attorney and civil rights activist, championed U. City as adults and parents. They bought a home close to where Judy grew up and sent their children, Erica and Aaron, to the U. City public schools. The couple later divorced and Eric died of pancreatic cancer in 2018.

In spending many hours interviewing Judy, one thing that she points to as singularly positive and eye opening was going to school with so many Jewish students. 

She moved to U. City in 1965, in time to start ninth grade at Hanley Junior High. Her older brother and sister had attended Beaumont High in the city, and Judy wanted to go there, too. All three kids had gone to Ashland Elementary School in the city, which was predominantly white when Judy started first grade there. In fact, she was the only black child in the first grade.

But by the time she finished eighth grade at Ashland, there was only one white boy in her class. 

“Coming to U. City the biggest change was being around all these Jewish people,” she told me. “I had gone to school with white kids but they weren’t Jewish. I felt a kinship because Jews and African Americans are both minorities and have stood together in the civil rights movement.”

Judy has a lot more to say that I think would be of particular interest to many of you, especially U. City High alums. I invite you to join Judy and me, along with Dick Weiss, Judy’s daughter Erica Vickers Cage, U. City School District Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, Sylvester Brown Jr. and others at a free forum from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11 at the University City Library.

News and Schmooze is a weekly column by Editor Ellen Futterman. Email Ellen at: efutterman@thejewishlight.com