‘Inspired Leadership’ is theme of JFed Annual Meeting

Jewish Federation President Sanford Neuman addresses the audience at the 2010 Federation Annual Meeting.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

A speech by visiting scholar Erica Brown on “Inspired Jewish Leadership” hit a responsive chord with the 100 plus people who attended the 109th Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis last week.

Brown, a highly acclaimed scholar, author and educator, who serves as scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and as a consultant to the Jewish Agency for Israel and other nonprofits, took a broad look at where the Jewish Federation of St. Louis and federations in general are in terms of positions of leadership in the modern Jewish community. She also addressed the qualities and skills needed to succeed in leadership positions.

Brown’s topic coincided with Federation’s new strategic plan, of which one of the six key elements for future success is to recruit, train and develop exceptional human resources. Longtime volunteer Bonnie Levens was among many attendees who praised Brown’s talk for “its timely and important message of assuring our future vitality by recruiting and training outstanding future leaders in our community.”

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Also in harmony with Brown’s message was the presentation of the David N. and Roselin Grosberg Young Leadership Awards to C. Bradley Gross, project manager of Gross Mechanical Contractors, Inc., and Stacy Oberman Siwak.

Both were praised for possessing qualities of inspirational Jewish leadership described by Sanford Neuman, president of the Jewish Federation, and Barry Rosenberg, executive vice president.

Rosenberg also announced that the recipient of the annual Fred A. Goldstein Memorial Service Award for Jewish Community Professional Excellence will be presented to Dan Reich, longtime Curator and Education Director of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. Reich will formally receive his award at an upcoming JFed Board meeting.

Another highlight of the evening was the unveiling of a new logo for the Jewish Federation, a design which to date has been adopted by 30 other federations around North America, designed to build greater local awareness while synchronizing with the national Federation movement.

Strategic plan outlined

Rosenberg described the many meetings and the processes involved in the preparation of the Federation’s new Strategic Plan, which was approved by the Federation’s Board of Directors after “seven months of hard work.” At the center of the plan, he said, “is Federation’s vision for St. Louis – our vision for a Thriving Jewish Community.”

That vision encompasses “engaged and connected people, who derive meaning, purpose, nurturance and joy from Judaism and Jewish life. They are served by a network of high quality and financially sustainable, Jewish organizations and services-led by exceptional people working in great facilities,” he said. “It is a secure place, where the most vulnerable members are cared for. It is one that is simultaneously rooted in Jewish tradition, yet seeks innovation and continuous improvement in Jewish life. It is a community that cooperates and works together internally, while participating with the larger St. Louis region for the good of all. It is part of a thriving, secure Jewish world and a strong Israel.”

In his remarks, Federation President Sanford Neuman said he felt there had been substantial progress in four key areas he outlined the previous year as issues of concern – Jewish continuity, Jewish education, the shrinking Jewish population and community harmony.

“We have already begun to address the quality of our day school education,” he said, noting that Federation appointed a Day School Task Force chaired by Bob Millstone and Todd Siwak, who worked with a consulting team. “The goal of the task force was to explore whether the schools could collaborate in ways that would better achieve their missions in a financially sustainable manner. Time will tell whether these efforts will be successful, but we should be encouraged by the fact that the schools are addressing the issues raised by the consultants and are communicating with each other to attempt to build a better future.”

Jewish leadership in the 21st century

In her remarks, Brown stressed Jewish leaders today have to be people of deep integrity, enduring vision and capable of inspiring others. “We’re facing an ethical crisis today across the Jewish community and Jewish leaders need to be models of goodness,” she said. “Today’s leaders are more scrutinized than before and they need to make sure that the bar is set high and that they can live up to it.”

She also noted that serious challenges lie ahead.

“I believe that our challenge is to answer the question, ‘Why be Jewish?’ in a way that is compelling to young Jews and disaffected Jews and for those who are deeply committed. We have to make Judaism irresistible. We haven’t done that, but our tradition contains the riches that would enable us to answer the question were we to try hard enough.”

Sheila Greenbaum, immediate past president of the Federation, presided over the report of the nominating committee and installation of officers, trustees and directors of the Federation. Rabbi Jeffrey B. Stiffman, Emeritus of Shaare Emeth, who offered the invocation, was elected to the Council of Life Members.