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What We Do

The JCRC was among 17 Jewish organizations that received an Anything Grant in 2022. Anything Grants are awarded by the Staenberg Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. Each grant will be equal to 50 percent of the project budget; organizations are responsible for raising the remaining 50 percent from other sources.

They say all good things are worth waiting for. That’s certainly how organizers of the second Sababa Jewish Arts and Cultural Festival are approaching this year’s event, after postponing it twice, in 2020 and 2021, because of the COVID-19 pandemic... Word on the street has it that the Jewish Community Relations Council’s social justice, Jewish values-themed booth will be hard to top, though the Friends of Israel Scouts are teaching knot tying and the Jewish Light will be awarding prizes for correctly answering age-appropriate current events and trivia questions... This year’s free festival takes place Sept. 18 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the parking lot outside Simon Hall at Washington University, near the south entrance to the campus. Festival goers can park for free nearby at the underground Danforth University Center Garage, 6475 Forsyth Blvd. Festival co-chairs are Diane Balber and Blair Kweskin.

Cultural Leadership, a local nonprofit that educates middle and high school students to recognize and resolve issues of privilege and injustice through the lens of the African American and Jewish experience, will honor Rabbi Daniel Bogard, Bob Fox and Cheryl Adelstein at its Golden Gala on Tuesday, Sept. 15... Adelstein, the deputy director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, will be presented with one of two Troublemaker of the Best Kind Awards for Education Equity, honoring community members and organizations dedicated to shining a light on critical social issues and generating positive change.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis (JCRC) hired Elyse Picker as program manager. In this role, she will be responsible for coordinating, implementing and overseeing a variety of JCRC programs, including education, social action and interfaith relations. Picker was the PJ Our Way parent connector for the St. Louis region.

Record rainfalls in the St. Louis region over the past week have caused disastrous flooding for St. Louis residents and local organizations. On Friday, the Jewish Fund for Human Needs (JFHN), a program of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis (JCRC), and the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association (STLRCA), responded to calls for help with flooding damage from two local organizations: The Little Bit Foundation and ArchCity Defenders.

“At JCRC, we recognize that all of us in the St. Louis region are interconnected,” said JCRC Executive Director Maharat Rori Picker Neiss. “In times of crisis like these, we’re grateful to have the financial resources of the JFHN to respond quickly to pressing needs. We deeply admire the work of the Little Bit Foundation and ArchCity Defenders and want to ensure they can return to their essential operations as quickly as possible.”

June 1 marks the beginning of Pride Month. It’s about commemorating the pursuit of equality within the LGBTQ community. This summer, a new, inclusive overnight camp could change things for kids and teens across the country. Camp Indigo Point was created after legislation began targeting these communities across the country.

“It’s hard to put into words what it is to know that there’s a space for your kid not to feel like an outsider, but to be one of a group,” Rori Picker-Neiss said.

Picker-Neiss has been advocating for trans rights and rallying against Missouri’s anti-trans bills for years. She said this past year, she spent time going to Jefferson City with her children to testify against anti-transgender legislation. Picker-Neiss said she’s been fighting for her transgender son and others in Missouri and across the country.

Robert “Bob” Newmark is a member of the Advisory Board for the Newmark Institute for Human Relations with the Jewish Community Relations Council, an institute established by his parents, Barbara and Michael Newmark. Bob Newmark has been nominated as Board Chair of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, to succeed current chair, Greg Yawitz, according to a news release issued from Federation. Newmark will be formally presented for election at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ Board of Directors’ meeting in December and take office on Jan. 1.

Rabbi Howard Kaplansky, Dan Friedman and Missouri Sen. Jill Schupp will be honored at the Jewish Community Relations Council’s 2022 Tzedek Awards on May 24 at United Hebrew. Kaplansky, of United Hebrew, will receive the Batya Abramson-Goldstein Legacy Award for his longtime service to the organization, which includes being a past president of JCRC and past chair of the Newmark Institute. Friedman will receive the Michael and Barbara Newmark Emerging Leader Award for his leadership. He is vice president of North American sales and business development at Entegral. A special tribute will be given to Schupp for her years of public service as she completes her time in the Missouri General Assembly. Schupp attends Shaare Emeth.

Student to Student is one of the JCRC’s premier programs...One of the main goals of Student to Student is to demonstrate to others that Jewish kids are just like any other kids...Student to Student also informs kids about Jewish traditions that they may be unfamiliar with including Jewish life cycle events, Shabbat, kashrut, etc. The students are encouraged to ask questions and to get to know the Jewish students who come to speak to them. “The goal is not that they could get 100 on a test about Judaism, but the goal is that they see real Jewish teens,” said Abraham.

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss and Mennonite Pastor Jennifer Harris Dault spoke with St. Louis Public Radio on Wednesday to discuss the discrimination inherent in the Missouri Legislature's Save Women's Sports Act:

“This bill seeks to codify into law discrimination against trans youth,” Picker Neiss said on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “It's being pitched as if this is something that we should be scared of, that our children are scary. And that in and of itself is hugely problematic at a time when we're already seeing the trans community being attacked and marginalized and facing violence simply for who they are.”

Local Jewish advocacy groups reacted Tuesday to news of the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito about the future of Roe v. Wade as it relates to the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Clinic case currently before the Court.
JCRC Executive Director Maharat Rori Picker Neiss stated, “The JCRC recognizes that Jewish tradition affirms the value of human life and that decisions about abortion involve theological views that differ within the Jewish community. Yet, we maintain that governmental attempts to legislate these views invade the religious liberty and religious pluralism guaranteed individuals by the First Amendment. In this area of religious concern, private religious conscience must be protected, and the separation of religion and state respected and upheld.”

A House bill seeking to prohibit local governments from barring individuals with felony convictions from working at businesses that sell liquor or lottery tickets could help combat worker shortages and recidivism rates, a retail advocacy group said...

The bill was also backed by the St. Louis-based Jewish Community Relations Council, with Deputy Director Cheryl Lynn Adelstein touting the removal of local barriers as a vital step toward reducing Missouri's recidivism rates.

"Reducing barriers to employment, is one of several tools to help reduce the recidivism rate in Missouri," ... "Finding paid employment can be nearly impossible due to the stigma of incarceration and the occupational licensure boards which are allowed to reject applicants with criminal histories, even when that history has no relevance to the job in question. This clarification will enable more returning citizens access to employment and reduce recidivism."

For the second year, Proudie and Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, have introduced legislation that would create the CROWN Act, which stands for Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. It would prohibit discrimination on the basis of hair texture and protective hairstyles in educational institutions that benefit from state financial assistance or state student financial aid. The measure passed unanimously out of the Special House Committee on Urban Issues on Jan. 31, on the eve of Black History Month. It has since been approved by the House Rules Committee, making it eligible to be placed on the chamber’s debate calendar...Cheryl Adelstein, deputy director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, said systemic racism in society overall has created a wealth and income gap, which can be closed in part through education. “We want to make sure everyone is comfortable getting their education,” said Adelstein, during the Jan. 24 hearing. “And these bills will reduce discrimination in publicly-supported education institutions.”

A hearing was held on Jan. 25 on HB2000, a bill promoting a week of (age-appropriate) Holocaust education and awareness programs in Missouri public schools. The bipartisan bill was pre-filed in December by state Rep. Adam Schwadron, R-St. Charles, and state Sen. Brian Williams, D-St. Louis County. JCRC's Alyssa Banford was among the powerful coalition that offered testimony in support of the bill.

“Representation matters. It matters to see people who look like you. Who dress like you. Who speak your language. Who understand your fears,” said Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

Her post and comments were made after watching Rep. Adam Schwadron, R-St. Charles, speak on the Missouri House floor on the first day back in session after the horrific terror attack at Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Schwadron spoke of rising antisemitism, of the fear in our Jewish community, of security needs, all while wearing a yarmulke.

The Student to Student program, founded 30 years ago by the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, is going national. It will be headquartered in St. Louis, under the auspices of a new nonprofit, Student to Student Inc. In 1992, Student to Student was launched with roughly six student presenters and a handful of schools. Today, Student to Student in St. Louis involves roughly 120 Jewish area teens and reaches at least 4,000 non-Jewish teens each year in over 100 classrooms. From 2017 to 2020, Student to Student was able to expand to nine cities, operating through their local federation and/or JCRC.

Rabbi Seth D. Gordon of Traditional Congregation shares his perspective on the latest JCRC Council Meeting and offers thoughts on tolerance, diversity, and divisiveness.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, along with the Mirowitz Center, are honoring Martin Luther King Day 2022, with a special program featuring Missouri State Senator Brian Williams, who is the Assistant Minority Floor Leader. “The ugly truth is: There is still racism in society,” said Robert Arbuthnot, Sen. Williams’ chief of staff. “There is still discrimination against people based on their race, faith, and orientation. And that means there are still things we must do to help bend our moral arc toward justice.” This program is co-sponsored with the Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute for Human Relations at the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis (JCRC).

Two local Jewish organizations, MaTovu and the St. Louis chapter of J Street, were approved for full membership in the council of the Jewish Community Relations Council, in a meeting via Zoom Monday evening. MaTovu, which tends to attract 20 and 30-something Jews, is an organization based in south St. Louis that sponsors a variety of social, cultural, and educational programs designed to enrich connections to Judaism. J Street St. Louis describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace and supportive of a two-state solution of the Jewish state of Israel and an independent de-militarized Arab state of Palestine.”

If voters approve Proposition (Prop) R in April next year, it will immediately improve ethics at the Board of Aldermen by prohibiting alder persons from taking official action on legislation when they have a personal or financial conflict of interest, according to a Show Me Integrity press release. Over time, Prop R proposes to change the city’s redistricting process by 2031 and to require financial and ethical disclosures. “The outcome will allow the St. Louis community to have a better participation practice in how their government works, specifically talking about the redistricting element of this legislation, and also make sure that the members of the Board of Aldermen with these conflicts of interest policies seek to serve their community first," Jami Cox added. "That's why I think Prop R would make St. Louis a more community-oriented city."
Organizations that have endorsed Prop R include the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis, Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice, St. Louis Association of Community Organizations, Missouri Faith Voices, Missouri Health Care for All, Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, RepresentUs, MaTovu, and Serve America Movement.

“As we approach the end of 2021, the International Institute has settled an enormous number of new arrivals,” wrote Alyssa Banford, JCRC, Director of Civic Engagement and Stan Shanker, Chair of the Jewish Coalition for New Americans in a recent email to supporters. “Unfortunately, they have had to rely on temporary housing in hotels more than they anticipated due to the housing market.”

The Jewish Coalition for New Americans is hosting a meeting Friday, December 17th at noon to share some information, but mostly to answer questions or concerns about how the members of the St. Louis Jewish community and congregations can get involved in supporting our new neighbors.

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, Executive Director of the JCRC concluded, “The Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis is honored to count ourselves among the organizers of the effort to bring this remarkable exhibit to St. Louis. It is essential that we learn from & honor the history & struggles of all peoples & especially the LGBTQ+ community. As we see from the work of displaying the exhibit, these struggles are far from over & we all have a part to play in building a brighter, more welcoming future for all people.”
“Making History: Kansas City & the Rise of Gay Rights” was the LGBTQ history exhibit that was pulled from Missouri Capitol after just four days following complaints last September.

A menorah lighting on Dec. 2 celebrated both the fourth night of Hanukkah and called attention to the presence of antisemitism. The St. Louis Jewish community brought together faith leaders and state elected officials to speak out against hate during “Shine A Light on Antisemitism” at the Jewish Federation.

The threat of hate and violence is especially significant among Jews, said Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis during her opening remarks.

A traveling LGBTQ history exhibit will be available in St. Louis through early 2022 after its controversial removal from the Missouri Capitol in September.

Numerous businesses, individuals, and organizations banded together to support its display in the St. Louis community, including the Missouri Historical Society, the St. Louis LGBT History Project, and the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

“It is essential that we learn from and honor the history and struggles of all peoples, and especially the LGBTQ+ community,” JCRC Executive Director Maharat Rori Picker Neiss said. “As we see from the work of displaying the exhibit, these struggles are far from over, and we all have a part to play in building a brighter, more welcoming future for all people.”

Nearly three months after being removed from the Missouri Capitol by Gov. Mike Parson’s administration, an exhibit on the history of the LGTBQ movement will now be on display in several St. Louis locations. JCRC is part of a coalition of organizations that made this possible.

Called “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights,” the exhibit documents the early days of LGBTQ activism in the state. It consists of banners, curated by University of Missouri-Kansas City history students, recounting the activism of the city’s LGBTQ community.

A new traveling exhibit about the struggles of the LGBTQ community in Missouri has opening in St. Louis, after it was controversially removed from the state's Capitol building two months ago.
"What a morning," says Rori Picker Neiss via Twitter. "Business, civic, and faith communities came together with vision from @charliekmox to bring @UMKCLibraries exhibit to St. Louis, starting at @CortexSTL and with interactive St Louis interactive exhibit courtesy of @mohistorymuseum. Check it out and be inspired."

An LGBTQ history exhibit that was removed from the Missouri Capitol this year after drawing complaints has opened in St. Louis. Cheryl Adelstein, deputy director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, said a copy of the exhibit was opening in St. Louis.

Five local Jewish organizations are joining with a coalition of more than 60 North American Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and corporations to launch Shine A Light, an effort that works to illuminate the dangers of antisemitism through education, community partnerships, workplace engagement and advocacy.

Co-sponsors of the effort locally are:

Jewish Federation of St. Louis | Jewish Community Relations Council |Anti-Defamation League’s Heartland chapter | American Jewish Committee-St. Louis chapter | National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis

The groups are asking community members to join in the campaign by posting pictures of themselves with a candle or flashlight on their social media during Hanukkah, Nov. 28 to Dec. 6, and using the hashtag #ShineALight.

Jewish Federation of St. Louis, as well as several Jewish and interfaith organizations, reacted with promises to combat hate and antisemitism in the wake of the news that a St. Louis man threatened to blow up Central Reform Congregation. Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the JCRC, said in an email that her organization had received many phone calls, emails, and texts Thursday from local interfaith and intergroup partners asking what they can do to support the St. Louis Jewish community. “It is heartening to see so much support amidst a scary time,” she said.

Critics of the Board of Aldermen’s ward redistricting process and its most prominent supporter, Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, squared off in separate news conferences at City Hall on Wednesday. JCRC was among the speakers calling for greater transparency in the redistricting process. Other speakers included representatives of the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis, Forward through Ferguson, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Missouri Asian American Youth Foundation, the Greater Fairfax Missionary Baptist Church, and the Hispanic Leaders Group of Greater St. Louis.

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss serves on the St. Louis Public Health Department's interfaith advisory board. Initially, the goal of the advisory board was to enlist the help of trusted members of the community to assist in addressing health inequities and to be champions of public health. In 2021, the advisory board turned its focus to encouraging underserved and vaccine-hesitant minority communities to get vaccinated.

JCRC joins with 9 other Jewish organizations in St. Louis to advocate for the Freedom to Vote and Voting Rights Advancement Acts, up for debate on Oct. 20 in the U.S. Senate. Whatever our skin color, ZIP code or religion, in America we share the fundamental right of freedom – the freedom to have a say in decisions that impact our lives, from curbing the pandemic to creating jobs to making health care affordable...Just as we have fought throughout our history for our freedom to vote, we must come together now to ensure all Americans are able to cast our vote and have it counted. For democracy to work for all of us, it must include us all.

The Jewish Community Relations Council, in partnership with the Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ Israel Center, is proud to present the Invest in Peace Series, which will provide monthly virtual programs that highlight organizations or initiatives within Israel working to build peace, cooperation, and shared society. The first program will take place on Tuesday, October 19, 2021, from noon to 1 p.m and will focus on Givat Haviva International School (GHIS) based in Northern Israel.

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss joins other St. Louis community and faith leaders to offer words of condolence and healing at a special public memorial concert and lantern lighting ceremony to honor the nearly three thousand St. Louisans lost to COVID-19 in Great St. Louis. Forest Park, Saturday, October 2 at 7-9:30 pm. Open to all.

Arts & Faith St. Louis is preparing to stream their 10thanniversary Interfaith Concert on Sunday, Sept. 12, at 4 p.m., on HEC-TV and the Arts & Faith YouTube channel and website, among other channels.
The Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute for Human Relations at Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis is a proud partner of Arts & Faith St. Louis.
Visit for more information.
“The goal is to build a harmonious St. Louis, to use the arts to bring the faith community and the wider community together, to bridge divides,” said Paul Reuter, Executive Director of Arts & Faith St. Louis.

Democratic St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and several Jewish leaders on Monday criticized comments at recent County Council meetings that compared mask mandates to the Holocaust... "There is rhetoric that is minimizing the atrocities against the Jewish community to make a political point," said Picker Niess.

Staffers for Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) met for the first time on Tuesday with leaders from St. Louis’s Jewish federation and Jewish Community Relations Council and the local chapters of the National Council of Jewish Women and American Jewish Committee.

“I don't qualify under the health exemption by Missouri's definition, and yet at the same time, I still believe that for me to go into a crowded polling place would be to put myself or to put others at risk unnecessarily,” said Rori Picker Niess, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St Louis. Instead this year, Jewish voters can instead cite "religious beliefs or practice" as an absentee excuse.

The big difference at two presentations earlier this month, as with most things these days, was that the students were socially distanced. Some Catholic school students were in the classroom. Others were at home on Zoom. And the Jewish students were all answering questions from home or empty classrooms at their schools.

“Of course the Jewish world has internal fissures, but we feel that there is more that unites us than divides us, and so we thought that it would be good for us to... model collegiality, to model the ability to hear differences,” said Rabbi Carnie Rose of B’nai Amoona. The four leaders had been working to convene such a panel for a long time, they said, but were finally able to make it happen in a virtual setting. Hundreds of people tuned in to the first two sessions on Tuesdays

At the Jewish Community Relations Council, we believe that providing access to affordable, high-quality healthcare is critically important for the well-being of all Missourians. To that end, we are committed to supporting full implementation of Medicaid expansion in Missouri.

...I’ll be able to fill out my ballot... and not have to bother with the hassle of a notary, or stand in line among the masked and unmasked on election day. It provides me a bit of comfort amid the coronavirus pandemic. That comfort comes as the result of months of lobbying and public awareness by groups like the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis...

Another election is just around the corner but the coronavirus has some looking for alternative ways to vote. Over the next week and a half, notaries will be volunteering at 11 different St. Louis City and St. Louis County libraries to help folks with absentee voting.

Recent state law expanded absentee and mail in voting options for this year, however some absentee and all mail-in ballots must be notarized. The JCRC, NCJWSTL, and other local organizations have partnered with the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition to actively recruit notaries public and station them at public libraries around the region leading up to the August 4th ballot submission deadline.

It has now been over a week of protests, propelled by the unconscionable death of George Floyd but motivated by the deeply entrenched and systemic racism that permeates our society at every level. Our hearts break at the stories that underlie the suffering, at the history and the present experienced by our ancestors, family members, friends, neighbors and even ourselves personally.
We are eager to respond. We want to fix the brokenness.

As protests continue across the United States, we are witnessing at the forefront, a conversation about what the Jewish community relations field has long understood to exist under the surface: systemic racism underlies and permeates our societal structures.

To practice our faith, and live as Americans, we need to observe both the religious command to protect lives and the civic command to vote.

Religious belief has long impacted who Americans choose to support on Election Day, but if a growing group of Missouri Jewish leaders and other clergy have their way, religion may change how millions in the state cast their ballots this November — ideally in ways that limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

After Gov. Mike Parson says the issue is a partisan one, Jewish leaders across the spectrum of observance say that voting in person during a pandemic violates Torah law.

If you’re in Missouri, now you can claim a religious requirement to vote absentee. A letter organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council and signed by 32 rabbis, three cantors, and Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, the council’s executive director, says that during times of danger, “it is a deeply-held religious belief” to stay at home, even on Election Day.

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