Federation names next CEO

Andrew Rehfeld

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

After a nearly 18 month national search in which 27 “serious candidates” emerged, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis has chosen Andrew Rehfeld, 46, an associate professor of political science and professor of law at Washington University, to serve as its next chief executive officer and president.

The Federation’s board voted unanimously Tuesday to enter into a two-year contract with Rehfeld, beginning Sept. 1. Rehfeld will begin to prepare for his new position immediately, however, with a series of meetings, briefings and related activities to become more familiar with all aspects of the organization.


“We are thrilled to have found a person of Andrew’s caliber to lead our organization and the whole St. Louis Jewish community into the future,” said Federation Chairman Robert Millstone, who also led the search process. In explaining what distinguished Rehfeld among the other candidates, Millstone added: “His intelligence, his collaborative work style, his communication ability, his ability to inspire and connect with the next generation of leadership, and his demonstrated record of creativity and innovation were some of the top attributes.”

Rehfeld said he was “honored and humble to have been selected and asked to take on what is one of the most important leadership roles in American Jewish life today.”

He continued: “The Federation stands at a point to really unify and bring the community together, to serve fundamental issues of social justice and human needs and to help the cultivation and growth of the Jewish community and Jewish identity. It is an awesome task and I am tremendously excited.”

Rehfeld (pronounced RAY-feld) will succeed Barry Rosenberg, 61, who after 20 years as Federation’s top executive will retire in August 2013. During the year or so of overlap, Rosenberg will assist Rehfeld with the transition.

Currently, Rosenberg is in Israel, but issued a statement that in part said, “It’s a source of great satisfaction for me to know that the position I’ve held will be filled by a man of his talents and commitments.”

Well-spoken and seemingly easy-going, Rehfeld admitted that his career trajectory, from university professor to Federation CEO and president, seemed a bit unlikely. “It’s less than the break it appears and much more of a returning to commitments I made early on,” he explained.

He grew up in Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Baltimore, in Conservative and Reform Jewish households. His mother, Beverly Rehfeld, who now lives in St. Louis, raised him with a commitment to Jewish values and engagement, and his father and late stepmother, R. Rex and Ruth Wolf Rehfeld, were involved professionally and as volunteer leaders with the Jewish community in Baltimore.

In accepting the Federation job, Rehfeld will oversee the implementation of its strategic plan, which was formulated in 2010 and focuses on six priorities, including the engagement of future generations. While he said he “wouldn’t delete or add anything” from the initiative, he framed its six points into three main areas: build, secure and cultivate.

“We need to build Jewish community and identity among young Jewish professionals and young Jewish families,” he said. “We need to continue to secure basic social services needs for Jews in St. Louis and around the world, and we also need to secure and protect against the constant and continual threat of anti-Semitism, through support for Israel and being vigilant at home. And we need to cultivate the human and physical capital that it’s going to take to build and secure our community.”

Rehfeld said one of his many challenges is making Federation relevant to younger Jews and Jewish families. He foresees more collaboration between Federation and other organizations, both Jewish and secular, to help bridge that gap. As an example, he mentioned the possibility of a Jewish folk arts festival to be held in Forest Park or University City where young Jews are.

“We need to partner strategically with institutions in St. Louis that are moving ahead with civic progress – to put Federation support behind them,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what that means yet but it will be critical because the fate of the Jewish community in St. Louis is linked inextricably to the fate of the general St. Louis community. If we don’t create an environment where Jews and non-Jews want to come and live, the Jewish community is going to suffer long term.”

In choosing a successor, Rosenberg indicated that fundraising ability was the core function and top of the priority list. Rehfeld echoed its importance, explaining that he has “tons of experience” from his work in academia in two key areas of fundraising – building and developing personal relationships and articulating a vision. “The third key piece is making ‘the ask,’ and I have much more limited experience in that,” he said. “But as part of this process, it has become clear to me that that is not going to be a problem. If I am committed to what we do, I’ve got to be committed to raising the funds. I see fundraising as one of my top jobs but in service to the mission of the organization.”

Rehfeld graduated with his B.A. at the University of Rochester, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and served as President of the University’s Hillel, and received his master’s in public policy and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. He joined the faculty at Washington University in 2001.

Washington U Chancellor Mark Wrighton praised Rehfeld’s 11-year career at the university, adding, “I am truly sorry to lose him but pleased to see the St. Louis area retain him in this vitally important leadership role.”

Rehfeld has been active in the Jewish community his whole life. His first jobs out of college were with the National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) in New Jersey and with the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in India and Europe. As a graduate student in Chicago, he served on his synagogue’s board and was director of the confirmation program and adviser to its youth group.

Since moving to St. Louis, Rehfeld has served on:

• The board and executive committee of Hillel at Washington University, where he directed the successful search for a new rabbi;

• The board of Shaare Zedek Synagogue, where he also has performed with a musical group that participates in Shabbat services (he is both a guitarist and vocalist);

• The board and executive committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), which awarded him the Michael and Barbara Newmark Emerging Leader Award in 2008;

• The Federation’s board of trustees.

Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the 
JCRC, has had firsthand experience working with Rehfeld when he served on her board.

“I’m thrilled,” she said of his appointment. “While he may be a surprising choice, he is an outstanding choice. This is an individual who has demonstrated an abiding commitment to the Jewish community throughout his life. He is a marvelous strategic thinker, creative, visionary, a team player and very much a people person.

“Andrew will listen. He will learn those aspects of the job he is not familiar with very, very quickly and he will generate great enthusiasm in all parts of the community,” she added.

Lynn Wittels, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center and a member of the Federation search committee, said she is “jumping for joy” because Rehfeld is coming on board.

“Andrew represents a great combination of honoring and respecting all the St. Louis Jewish community is and having the vision to see what it can be. He has tremendous skills to take us to the next level.”

Wittels added that while Rosenberg “has done a marvelous job” over last 20 years, “every once in a while you have to shake things up. Because Andrew comes from outside of the Federation system he will bring fresh energy. That’s healthy for any organization and the community as a whole.”

Rehfeld is married to Dr. Miggie Greenberg, vice chair of the department of neurology and psychiatry at the St. Louis University School of Medicine. They have a daughter, Emma, 17, and a son, Hoben, 16. The family lives in University City.