A new generation of spiritual leadership for Temple Israel

Rabbi Amy Feder


Growing up in St. Louis County, she wanted to be Joni Mitchell – not so much for the hair, but for Mitchell’s musicality. Today, Rabbi Amy Feder stands poised to assume the role of senior rabbi at Congregation Temple Israel.

“I wanted to be Joni Mitchell for awhile, and I also wanted to be a therapist or a teacher,” says Feder, flashing a warm smile. “Being a rabbi was the one profession that brought everything together for me.” Did she make that decision early on? “No,” she says, laughing. “I decided in the middle of rabbinical school.”


The career move was a good one. As of July 1, Feder, 31, will be the youngest female to serve as senior rabbi of a large congregation in North America. Temple Israel, at #1 Alvan D. Rubin Drive in Creve Coeur, has about 1,070 families. Feder will be the seventh rabbi to lead the congregation, which was founded in 1886. She will succeed Rabbi Mark L. Shook.

“Rabbi Shook was my rabbi when I was growing up-as a kid, I was involved in the Temple Israel youth group, and I went through confirmation here-and more recently he has been my boss and my colleague,” notes Feder, who has served as assistant rabbi at Temple Israel since 2006. “Perhaps I could have been a rabbi anywhere, but I would never have taken on this responsibility anywhere but Temple Israel, because I have spent my whole life here. These are my people, and I know and love them.”

By all accounts, the people of Temple Israel love Feder back.

Carol Cohen, secretary of the board of trustees, worked closely with Feder when Cohen was chair of the education committee. “In a word, Rabbi Feder is incredible,” says Cohen. “You rarely meet a person – particularly someone as young as she is-who is as able to listen and process and synthesize and then come out with something supportive and helpful.”

That’s just an adult’s perspective. Cohen’s daughter Ellie, 19, told her mom recently that “A-Fed is so cool.” Cohen notes that all the young people call Feder by the fond nickname. “She connects with everybody,” says Carol Cohen. “I remember six years ago, when she served as our rabbinic intern for the high holidays. As I sat looking at her, I turned to a friend and said that Amy Feder was going to be our next rabbi. She really is extraordinary – she always has been.”

Dr. David Weinstein, president of the congregation, agrees. “Amy is a very special person and a very special rabbi, an engaging speaker with a natural ability to connect with all generations, a rabbi destined for greatness,” says Weinstein. “We are so pleased that she is staying at Temple Israel. We want to be part of that journey toward greatness.”

Feder’s husband, Rabbi Michael Alper, also serves at Temple Israel. They live in University City with their son, Jonah, 16 months old. Feder is enthusiastic about sharing rabbinical duties with Alper. “Michael and I are working with the board and the staff, doing visioning for the future,” says Feder. “We’re examining our strengths and our weaknesses, and coming up with priorities. Overall, we will run the congregation like a family, all of us learning how to be Jewish – how to ‘do’ Jewish-together.”

When she was ratified as senior rabbi in February, Feder shared these thoughts with the congregation: “Rabbi Alper has often expressed his idea that a congregation has a mind, a heart and a soul. In our congregation, we have a perfect fit for this concept. Rabbi Shook is known for his intelligence and insight, and we are so fortunate to have him remaining on as our rabbi emeritus. Rabbi Alper’s calling has always been towards caring for the neshamah, the soul of every congregant. And for me, it has always been about heart. With these two amazing rabbis by my side, and with the rest of our talented leadership staff, we will together be able to bring Temple Israel into the next generation.”

Feder notes that she and Alper plan to serve and support the entire congregation but will make a special effort to reach out to people their own age. “We are in a wonderful position to reach out to people in our own demographic, the ones seeking that elusive spirituality,” she says. “What we offer is not your parents’ Judaism or the Judaism you were raised with, but there is something meaningful at Temple Israel, and many good reasons to make Judaism central to your life.”

Feder’s family has belonged to Temple Israel for four generations. “I have a great network of family and friends here,” says Feder. She likes to read, play music and spend time at the St. Louis Zoo with her family. Feder also takes kickboxing classes.

A graduate of Clayton High School, Feder attended the University of Michigan, where she studied music and Judaism. After graduating with high honors, she attended the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York, where she was ordained and received a master’s degree in Hebrew literature.

Prior to coming to Temple Israel, Feder served in rabbinic and educational capacities in Jerusalem, Long Island and St. Louis, as well as several small towns throughout the southeastern United States. As part of her rabbinic training, she worked as a chaplain at New York University Hospital and taught at the Millers Honors High School program.

At Temple Israel, Feder has taught at the Deutsch Early Childhood Center and served as a liaison to several youth groups.

Music has always played a part in her life. Feder described worship at Temple Israel as participatory, with services led using a variety of instruments. “The music is fun, and it makes worship and God more accessible,” says Feder. She even has recruited a lifelong friend, Rob Aronson, to play guitar and sing at services.

“Amy and I grew up singing together and our voices blend well together,” says Aronson, a financial advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors. “Amy has a beautiful singing voice, but she is also incredibly gifted at connecting with people of all ages, and she is loved and respected by everyone she comes in contact with. I am so proud of her-Amy is a shining star.”