As 2015 comes to an end, I write to provide an overview of some of the key accomplishments of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis this year. The support of thousands in our community has helped us achieve some significant milestones this year.
Jewish Federation of St. Louis started 2015 on a very significant note. After almost 20 years, we commissioned the first community study to assess the needs of our changing community. We learned:
- The Jewish population of the St. Louis region has grown since 1995 by 14% —from 53,000 Jewish individuals in 1995 to about 61,000 today.
- In addition, over 30,000 individuals of other faiths now live in households with at least one Jewish adult due to intermarriage.
- One-third of our community lives east of Lindbergh Boulevard in Clayton, University City, Ladue, Olivette, and the City of St. Louis, comprised heavily of young professionals and young families. And our communities in Creve Coeur and Chesterfield continue to expand and thrive.
- Significant economic strains exist within about 8% of our population, living at 150% of the poverty line or below ($35,800 for a family of four) and another 18% living at 250% of the poverty line or below ($59,600). That last number is important as families at that level and below find the costs of engagement with Jewish life—schools, camps, programs, memberships, even kosher food—prohibitively expensive.
Our work with the Community Study results is just beginning. Jewish Federation of St. Louis remains here to help each organization use this important resource for their own planning and understanding of the local trends that will affect their work. Beginning in the first quarter of 2016, Federation will be building a community summit to address important approaches to the challenges.
On July 1 of this past year, the Central Agency for Jewish Education (CAJE) formally dissolved after over 40 years of service to the community, merging its mission and assets into Jewish Federation of St. Louis. Initiated by its lay leadership team of John Greenberg and Marcia Moskowitz, along with CAJE Executive Director, Sonia Dobinsky, the change demonstrated an unusual willingness to sunset existing institutions in order to more effectively leverage community resources. The transition has allowed our community to strengthen our work in engagement and education by combing our resources and efforts to great effect.
As a first step, Jewish Federation of St. Louis has established a Center for Jewish Learning that is consolidating CAJE’s educational work throughout our community. I am pleased to announce that Cyndee Levy has been appointed its first Director, reporting directly to me. Cyndee has already been working closely as the interim coordinator of the Brodsky Library and is moving to engage area universities in collaborative educational partnerships for our entire community. Under the Center for Jewish Learning, Jewish Federation of St. Louis will continue to support our agencies, congregations and day schools with teacher training, scholarships, and curriculum assistance.
The Center for Jewish Learning will now house the SH’MA: Listen! Speakers Series. This series, supported by continuing a significant grant from the Lubin-Green Foundation and additional support from Hank Webber and Chris Jacobs, has drawn over two thousand people in the last 15 months to hear community talks on a wide range of Jewish topics. The series—begun as an idea suggested by our senior congregational rabbinic leadership—is designed to promote outside speakers to the general community when agencies and congregations are hosting them. Highlights of these partnerships include: David Makvosky on the Iran deal at Congregation B’nai Amoona, as part of the Jewish Light, JCC, and JCRC’s “Can We Talk” series; a standing-room only crowd for Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks as part of the JCC Book Festival (with an additional co-sponsorship of the John D. Danforth Center for Religion and Politics at Washington University, Hillel and Chabad). Other talks have been by Dan Ben-David, founding director of the Shoresh Institute, and Miri Eisen of the Israel Defense Forces. With these and other talks, the SH’MA: Listen! series has attracted thousands of individuals to engage in Jewish thought and learning, particularly around Israel.
Thanks to the vision and investment of Pam and Ron Rubin and The Rubin Family Foundation, Jewish Federation of St. Louis partnered this year with The Wexner Foundation to provide 20 local St. Louisans under 50 with a 2 year course of intensive educational leadership training as Wexner Heritage Fellows. The fellows meet 18 times each year to learn with a leading internationally recognized scholar. Additionally, the Wexner program convenes the individuals and their spouses for three transformational summer experiences, including a 2 week trip to Israel. This program, last offered in our community in 1986, has already been hailed by other communities as the key conduit to strengthening the depth of the next generation of Jewish leaders.
These programs add significantly to Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ role as a direct service provider in the field of Jewish Education, a role we have played for decades. Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ Holocaust Museum and Learning Center (HMLC), for example, has already been the leader in providing education about the Holocaust to over 30,000 individuals each year, most from outside of our community. This August, the HMLC celebrated its 20th anniversary at a powerful celebratory banquet with over 600 individuals coming to hear the story of the Museum and its leadership. The HMLC, under the direction of Jean Cavender and its supportive lay chair Kent Hirschfelder, have moved the Museum into a resource for the entire St. Louis region.
The integration of CAJE with Jewish Federation of St. Louis has allowed us to increase opportunities for Jewish engagement as well. Sonia Dobinsky, former executive director of CAJE, has joined Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ management team as Vice President of Community Development. In that role, Sonia oversees five key engagement areas: volunteer leadership development; young professionals; community concierge for young families with children; inclusion for the disabled in Jewish life; and our Naturally Occurring Retirement Community. Some highlights include:
- The Millstone Leadership Institute, led by Marci Mayer Eisen and Karen Sher, continues its dynamic engagement work training agency leaders throughout the community
- PJ Library, led by Jennifer Baer Lotsoff, has more than doubled the subscriptions to the program in the last three years.
- Jayne Langsam, our Concierge for Families with Young Children, connects new families in St. Louis to the Jewish Community, making St. Louis a warm and welcoming community for newcomers. Jayne also runs our Shalom Baby program, welcoming new babies and their families into the Jewish community.
- Our work with young professionals, supported by a grant from the Staenberg Family Foundation, has allowed us to dramatically increase our programming and support for young professionals, as dictated by our 2010 strategic plan.
- Over the last 18 months Nate Rosenblum has expanded our summer internship program that brings 10 college students into St. Louis for the summer to partners with area businesses and creates a cohort to learn about our Jewish community.
- Nate and our new young professionals’ staffer Becca Near will be working closely with a retooled Young Professionals Division that has, under the leadership of Ben Cherry, restructured for maximal impact. Ben and YPD will continue to provide quality programming that emphasizes Jewish life and engagement, including our fourth annual “LolapaJEWza” on Christmas Eve!
- Nate Rosenblum and Jayne Langsam have created Challah in the Home, an outreach program welcoming over three dozen students into the Jewish community.
- Jewish Federation of St. Louis has launched a pilot program, the Jewish Food Experience, with an inaugural event at Third Degree Glass Factory that attracted over 100 young adults around Jewish food and hospitality.
Our engagement work also hit an important achievement this year in the area of disabilities engagement. In the spring of 2013, Susan Scribner, senior Planning and Allocations staff, convened a group of lay leadership to identify the needs that our disabled community had in engaging in Jewish life. Through the efforts of her and her committee, we received funding to hire Rinat Kisin, a part time Inclusion Coordinator, who works with our area institutions to make sure that Jewish life is accessible to all. Rinat has worked tirelessly to help our congregations and agencies recognize barriers to entry for the disabled, and provide grants to make them more accessible. Rinat has also implemented a pilot internship program at Jewish Federation of St. Louis that provides a 3 month internship to individuals with disabilities in order for them to get their first professional experience, something that was identified as a significant barrier to the professional development of those with disabilities. Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ efforts in this area were recognized with a Shine the Light award from Paraquad, the St. Louis organization dedicated to supporting disability inclusion in our community.
Thanks to the patient volunteer leadership of Sherry Shuman and Vicki Singer, that supported our organizations rebooting of the area and gave us the time to identify, vet and secure top level professional leadership, Women’s Philanthropy is now hitting historic levels, including its first 650 person “L’Chaim” annual November event. Supported by Director Julie Gibbs, current Women’s Philanthropy Chair
Michelle Rubin is set to oversee the resurgence of this strong and vibrant community.
Seniors and Senior Care
The 2014 Community study recognized that our seniors face particular vulnerabilities: we have over 3,000 seniors living alone and of these over 1,000 have no family in the area. These “orphaned” seniors are at doubled risk for decline as isolation adds to economic difficulty for a potent combination. Therefore, Jewish Federation of St. Louis has focused on three main areas to support this population.
- We continue to provide almost $500,000 in funding to our partner agencies Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS), the Jewish Community Center (The J), Covenant Place and Crown Center for Senior Living to support direct services that:
- connect seniors through Elderlink
- provide hot food and, when necessary, day care at The J
- fund the Chaplaincy program at JF&CS
- offer a Russian Case Manager at Crown Center for Senior Living
- provide Homemaker services at Covenant Place
- We serve as a direct service provider operating the St. Louis Naturally Occurring Retirement Community that supports over 3,000 seniors by mobilizing volunteers and social programs so that they can live independently for as long as possible. In recognition of its transformational role over this decade, Karen Berry-Elbert, the director of St. Louis NORC, received an award from the Center for Aging at Washington University in St. Louis.
- We have been a strong advocate and funding partner of the redevelopment of our community’s Covenant Place facility. Built over 40 years ago, the low-income housing facility is being replaced in order to meet the growing needs of an aging population. Subsidized and supported by Federal Housing grants, Jewish Federation of St. Louis made a ten year $750,000 commitment to support this project, thanks to the Ruth Kopolow Endowment Fund for Services for the Elderly which was set up in order to support senior needs.
Community Security and Infrastructure
One of our 6 key strategic priorities in our 2010 Strategic Plan was to provide infrastructure support for the St. Louis Jewish community. Learning from the April 2014 killings at the Kansas City Jewish Community Campus, Jewish Federation of St. Louis identified a set of communication and coordination needs that we had. Through a process of research and community input over a 12 month period, Jewish Federation of St. Louis invested in RAVE, a communications technology platform that allows our agencies, schools and congregations to instantly communicate with each other should an emergency occur. The system coordinates email, text and cell phone, along with a web-based portal that all together allows targeted messaging in case of an emergency. This, along with the Community Study, are good examples of the kind of work that the Annual Campaign supports and the kind of work that only Jewish Federation of St. Louis is in a position to provide our community.
Israel and Overseas Support
Jewish Federation of St. Louis continues to support a strong and safe democratic Jewish state, and to do so means providing multiple ways of engaging our community and Israel. We have achieved some key milestones this year, some in just the last few weeks.
First, Jewish Federation of St. Louis continues to be on the forefront of combatting the insidious moment to promote Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Your contributions to our Annual Campaign have allowed us to support the Israel Action Network, the national organization successfully combatting BDS throughout North America, including on college campuses. We remain in close contact with our local campus groups at Washington University, Maryville, UMSL, Webster, SLU and Mizzou, where we monitor the situation and supporting their efforts through our beneficiary agencies.
Also, we are so happy to announce, this past year Governor Nixon approved funding for a Missouri trade desk to be open in Israel. It was enacted through legislation that Jewish Federation of St. Louis was instrumental in lobbying for—indeed, last February I was the first “civilian” to testify in Jefferson City on this as a “win-win” for Missouri and for Israel. The trade desk is one of only 11 that the state of Missouri has supported around the globe. I believe that the best way to counteract the rhetoric and protests against Israel are to forge real relationships on the ground creating long lasting economic and regional ties. The trade desk will do that, and again, your support of our work allowed us to have the resources to make that happen.
Jewish Federation of St. Louis has also been a supporting partner of BioSTL’s St. Louis-Israel-Innovation-Connection-Initiative (SLIIC), led by Jewish Federation of St. Louis Trustee, Donn Rubin (CEO of BioStL). The initiative seeks to land Israeli businesses that are looking to open a North American presence. Thanks to their work, three Israel-based companies have established their U.S. base in St. Louis since the program was launched in May 2014. All three are in the agri-tech and plant science arenas, an area of competitive strength of our region. Together these three companies — Kaiima Agro Biotech, Evogene, and Forrest Innovations — have already created 30 new jobs in our region at wages that are nearly double the St. Louis average. And they are investing an additional $11.7 million in office and laboratory space. In its role as a supporting partner, Jewish Federation of St. Louis developed a website that captures the surprisingly rich array of cultural and family activities for Israelis in St. Louis, which SLIIC uses to help tell the St. Louis story as part of its recruiting efforts.
Another key area your support of the Annual Campaign helps is an Israel Center providing grants for Israel travel and educational trips to members of our community. Through this project, we continue to make significant investments in Birthright, the program that is ensuring that every individual who identifies as Jewish has the opportunity to visit Israel before the age of 26. And thanks to the continued support of Ron and Jewish Federation of St. Louis Trustee Pam Rubin, The Rubin Israel Experience sent 10 more St. Louisans aged 27-45 on their first trip in Israel. This year the group arrived just as the stabbing terror attacks were underway and experienced firsthand the joys and stresses of modern Israeli life. The Rubin Israel Experience has now sent 80 individuals to Israel and its alumni are already having a significant effect on Jewish life in St. Louis. We are so grateful for Ron and Pam’s vision and support of this transformative program.
Finally, our Annual Campaign supports grants that we make directly to change lives on the ground in Israel.
- Our partnership with our sister community of Yokne’am and Meggido continues to build strong relationships that are exemplars in assisting the integration of Ethiopian and Russian new immigrants into Israel society.
- We continue to fund key programs at Muzot, an arts high school for troubled youth in Tel Aviv.
- We have been leaders in supporting programs to strengthen democratic civil society in Israel, including strategic partnerships with Jewish and Arab Israeli communities fostering cooperative coexistence.
- We continue our partnership with LEKET, Israel’s national food bank to serve the needs of the hungry throughout the country.
And our work continues to support Jewish communities at risk outside of Israel where our dollars support Jews in the heart of conflict in Ukraine and those who face the increasing anti-Semitism of Europe, particularly in France.
The stories and work described above are the work of Jewish Federation of St. Louis. We are here to support all individuals in leading lives well lived. We do that by mobilizing the community’s resources, allocating over $13 million in a range of grants, and we do that through our direct services like the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, our Center for Jewish Learning, the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, and Brodsky Library. We are here to promote strong sustainable relationships between our community and Israel through education, travel and direct support. And we are here to support the existing infrastructure of beneficiary agencies, congregations, and all Jewish organizations that make this such a wonderful St. Louis Jewish community.
Our annual campaign has been a pillar of the St. Louis philanthropic region for over a century. But the challenges of Jewish engagement have taken their toll on our efforts. Controlling for inflation, the value of our campaign today is half of what it was in 1989. Indeed, the last year our campaign “beat” inflation was 1998. But after decades of decline, we are beginning to see some very positive signs. For the first time since 1995-1997, we have sustained a two year growth in giving of under-45 year olds. The last time we had even a single year of such growth was from 2005-2006. If we achieve a third year of growth in this demographic, it would be the first time in over 30 years. We are also seeing resurgence in philanthropic engagement.
But through all this work, we must not forget the true purpose, the greater cause of tikkun olam (repairing the world).
Here is a story from the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry to remind us why we do this work.
“Craig” is 42 years old. He doesn’t drive so he takes two busses to the Harvey Kornblum Food Pantry every month. He brings a backpack and a collection of canvas bags. After walking around the food pantry with one of our volunteers he meticulously packs everything into his backpack and bags. Sometimes he has to leave something behind because it just won’t fit or it’s too heavy. But usually, he manages. He always has a smile; a joke. He always makes the volunteer feel good. He then waits for the bus which stops right outside our door and schleps everything home.
This may not seem like a big deal until you learn that he comes back in the afternoon. By bus. He is a proxy shopper for his homebound neighbor who is also a food pantry client. Craig makes the trip a second time; taking two busses; shopping for his neighbor; packing everything into the backpack and the canvas bags; waiting for the bus again and off he goes.
Craig needs our help. He doesn’t have enough money to make it through the month and put food on his table. But Craig is also paying it forward by helping his neighbor the best way he knows how.
This is why, during these last days of 2015, we need your help toward reaching our goal for the Annual Campaign. To make your contribution, visit BuildJewishSTL.org or contact Tim Henry at THenry@JFedSTL.org or 314-442-3774.
Thanks to everyone for helping to make 2015 such a great year! We have already begun to plan 2016 and look forward to working together with the entire St. Louis community to make next year even better.
Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Jewish Federation of St. Louis