Jewish Federation staffer connects with young adults

Nate Rosenblum

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Nate Rosenblum likes to put together interesting programs, but that’s really not where his job begins.

“The first piece starts with building relationships with people,” said Rosenblum, 26, a native of Louisville, Ky. “Anything you are building on a programmatic level, there has to be a base of strong relationships you have with people in the community.”

Rosenblum has been building those relationships since July, when he filled the new position of senior associate for community development at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. Sonia Dobinsky, vice president of community development for the agency, said the senior associate’s role originally was seen as involving young people in Jewish life.

“As part of our strategic plan, we’re looking at different populations that we need to serve in order to make a broader connection for the Jewish community,” Dobinsky said.

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Rosenblum’s job description soon expanded.

“We were wanting someone who doesn’t only look at programs, but also individual connections to reach people who wouldn’t ordinarily intersect with the organized community,” Dobinsky said. “We were really, really lucky that while we had that concept in our minds, we also had the opportunity to connect with Nate in terms of someone to work with Jewish Federation. It seemed to be a really good synergistic match.”

Both the Staenberg Family Foundation and the Lubin-Green Foundation provided funding for the new job. Local philanthropist Michael Staenberg said he pushed for the Federation to create the position because he felt that it was important to engage emerging adults in the Jewish community, especially those in the 25-35 year-old category.

“There was a big need and I think it is something that if we don’t do it now, we’ll lose more and more generations,” he said.

Staenberg said he was pleased the idea came to fruition and thinks Rosenblum is the right man for the job which he believes will create a larger impact on the community as time goes on.

“Hopefully, in the next five to 10 years, it will have huge dividends,” he said.

Dobinsky said Rosenblum has been building partnerships with institutions around the community.

“I would say that the hallmark of the work that needs doing is very collaborative,” she said.

Rosenblum said that some of the infrastructure is already in place.

“We have a lot of amazing organizations that already exist in our community, with fantastic leaders,” he said. “Most are young adults, but also people who are just looking to support young adults and build that community.”

One of the new programs is Challah in the Home, an initiative to foster connections between young Jewish adults and local host couples who have them over for dinners and to engage together in Jewish rituals such as seders, Shabbat dinners and High Holiday happenings.

“When I got here, one of the things I kept hearing from people, and one of the things I experienced myself as a transplant, is people really missing their family,” he said. “This was a way to help create some of that. There are a lot of young adults who were really excited about being able to be with a family, have home-cooked meals in a warm home.”

Rosenblum is also working with the Federation’s internship program in which seven or eight students will get leadership development and mentoring opportunities with local companies and organizations. The program is in its second year.

“We’re really building that out to make it a robust program,” he said. “We have a great committee that is helping to drive the program.”

Rosenblum said he is working to improve communications between young adult groups including  NextDor, JGrads and Moishe House.

“It’s to figure out how we can be a voice for young adults and how we can collaborate together on programming and just be the best leaders that we can,” he said.

The role isn’t entirely new for Rosenblum. Before joining Federation, he worked at Washington University in residential life for three years, supervising a staff of resident assistants and graduate students.

“It’s a really cool transition because it was community development, just on a small scale,” said Rosenblum, a graduate of Brandeis University and the University of Pennsylvania. 

“It was building a community with all these students who came together and didn’t know anybody. They had a real need to come together and find commonalities. We’re doing a lot of that work here at the Jewish Federation.”

Rosenblum said he continues to seek input from others about what can be done better to facilitate that process.

“As people in the community have ideas and have things that they want to see, I would encourage them to contact me, and we can work together to try and figure out how to build community,” he said. “I think that’s a really important piece: community buy-in in everything that we’re doing, and people are excited about the work.”

Ultimately, Rosenblum feels that kind of feedback is important given the nature of his position.

“It’s really about them,” he said, “not us.”