Rabbi Susan Talve is the founding rabbi of Central Reform Congregation, the only Jewish congregation located within the city of St. Louis. When other congregations were leaving the city for the suburbs, Rabbi Talve rallied a small group to keep the vibrant congregation on the front lines of the fight against racism and poverty plaguing the urban center. Rabbi Talve received an honorary doctor of humane letters on May 15, 2015.
Selected in 2014 as one of the nation’s most inspirational rabbis by the national newspaper The Jewish Forward, Rabbi Talve has led her congregation in promoting radical inclusivity by developing ongoing relationships with African-American and Muslim congregations and by fostering civil liberties for the LGBTQ community.
Based on a core value of radical hospitality, her congregation provides a safe home for many individuals and groups that have been marginalized.
She has performed same-gender marriages since she arrived in St. Louis in 1981 and was on the first Marriage Equality bus to Iowa where she married her first legal couple in 2009.
As part of a committed pro-choice congregation, Rabbi Talve continues to stand on the front line of reproductive rights issues. She and her congregation also were in the forefront of support for the ordination of Roman Catholic Womenpriests in 2007.
Access to quality affordable health care has always been a passion for Rabbi Talve. In 2007, she became a founding member and president of Missouri Health Care for All, a statewide grassroots advocacy organization that is working to bring health care access to all Missourians.
Rabbi Talve also emerged as a spiritual leader in efforts to deal with unrest following the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, a young black man in Ferguson, Missouri.
Month after month, Rabbi Talve was on the streets with protestors in Ferguson and other St. Louis neighborhoods where demonstrations threatened to turn violent. She joined with other clergy to model the power of non-violent demonstration while addressing the concerns of protestors and police.
A leader in efforts to end gun violence in communities north of Delmar Avenue, she helped create a task force to address the problem and support gun reform legislation. She also has worked with African-American ministers in north St. Louis to try to curb harmful payday loan practices, such as high interest rates and fees.
One of her passions has been to encourage better relations among Israeli and Palestinian supporters, including speaking engagements with Mazen Badra, a Palestinian in St. Louis whose family home on the West Bank was threatened by Israeli missile fire. In a recent trip to Israel, she met with members of the Bedouins, an ancient Arab nomadic people now caught up in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Rabbi Talve attributes her success to the relationships she has built by showing up — from street corners where violent crime has taken lives; to rallies for workers’ rights, gun control and access to health care; to the bedside of the suffering, regardless of religion, race or gender identification.
Rabbi Talve was ordained by Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1981, where she earned a master’s degree in Hebrew letters and a doctor of divinity. She was honored with the college’s Stephen Levinson Award for Community Service after founding the Jewish Early Learning Cooperative, Ohio’s first licensed infant childcare program in the workplace.
Among her many awards and honors, she was the first non-Christian to receive an honorary doctorate from Eden Theological Seminary in 2011 for a career of visionary leadership in supporting interfaith relations in the St. Louis community.
Today, she performs life cycle events, leads worship services for the 750-plus households that comprise the congregation and is actively involved in the teaching of young and adult members.
She teaches courses on Jewish life and thought in both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities of St. Louis. She is a frequent speaker at campus events, including the 2004 Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman Memorial Lecture at Washington University.
She and her husband, Rabbi James Stone Goodman of Neve Shalom Congregation, live in Clayton, Missouri, and have three adult children, Jacob Talve-Goodman, Sarika Talve-Goodman and Adina Talve-Goodman (AB ’09).