Neuman urges more agency cooperation


The festive music of singer-songwriter Rick Recht gave the atmosphere at the start of the 108th Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis last Wednesday an energetic, upbeat feeling, which set the stage for the serious and yet ultimately hopeful messages of Sanford Neuman, who took office as the central communal organization’s 38th President. Neuman, chair and founding partner of the law firm of Gallop, Johnson & Neuman, and outgoing JFed president, attorney Sheila Greenbaum, described the challenges to the Federation’s network of agencies and programs, and stressed the urgent need for greater cooperation, coordination and even consolidations among them.

While making it clear that the financial challenges facing the Jewish community of St. Louis are serious, Neuman also stressed his optimism for the future, and announced plans for a community-wide program called “Light Fest: Share, Give, Connect,” which will be held Sunday, Dec. 6 at the Jewish Community Center’s Staenberg Family Complex.


“The evening will have the theme, ‘Tough times. Come help,'” Neuman told the audience of 250 people who filled the Staenberg Auditorium. “The event will give our entire community the opportunity to come together as one to help deal with the challenges all of us are facing.”

Barry Rosenberg, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation, served as master of ceremonies for the evening, which included the election of officers, directors and trustees for the coming year, and the presentation of the David N. & Roselin Grosberg Young Leadership Awards. Rabbi Hyim Shafner, of Congregation Bais Abraham in University City, offered the invocation and was announced as the recipient of the Fred A. Goldstein Community Service Award, which will be presented at a future meeting of the JFed Board of Directors.

Taking note of the financial downturn facing the nation, Rosenberg said, “although this year the economic crisis has placed renewed emphasis on the provision of basic services to people in need, increasingly, we as a Jewish community must focus on the future–how we will sustain and strengthen a thriving Jewish community that will inspire, connect and support next generations, bringing meaning, direction and joy to their lives.”

Rosenberg added, “In recent years through our Annual Campaign and special contributions from Michael and Leslie Litwack and the Kranzberg Foundation, we’ve brought forward effective new signature programs like P J Library, Birthright Israel and B’nai Tzedek. We recognize that we will need a full menu of diverse programs, from quality day schools to summer camps to service volunteerism, to respond to the many ways Jews experience their heritage.

He added: “Exciting new programs like Moishe House and Next Dor will help attract young Jews who want less institutional modes of Jewish identification. And central organizations like the Jewish Community Center, Hillel and the Central Agency for Jewish Education are re-thinking strategy to be more effective. We’re exploring ways to better connect with Washington University students to entice them to stay in St. Louis. We’re in the planning stages for a new Institute for Leadership Development. And we recognize increasingly the need to conduct outreach through a one-on-one concierge model, identifying people’s unique interests and then connecting them to the right opportunities in our community.”

Recipients of the 2009 Grosberg Young Leadership Awards were J. J. Flotken, partner with Strategic Benefit Services, who has served as president of the Jewish Federation’s Young Professionals Division, and Jackie Levey, an attorney with Armstrong Teasdale LLP, who is a member of the Jewish Federation’s Cardozo Society for attorneys, a vice president of the Young Professionals Division and chair of the St. Louis Israel Connection of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

In her remarks, Greenbaum looked back on her two years as Federation president, recalling that when she took office she identified three major issues to address.

“The first was what I called a ‘yawning financial problem.’ The second was a serious problem with division in our community, particularly among the different agencies. The third was the existentially threatening question of Jewish identity, of how to cement Jewish identities in a culture of tolerance.”

Regarding the financial problem, Greenbaum said, “This emergency forced us to reduce our aggregate allocations to member agencies by nearly 8 percent for the coming year. And even though the stock market has regained some of its lost ground and the economic outlook has improved, I believe that during my two years the recession proved to be the event with the most profound ramifications.”

Greenbaum added, “as painful as this situation has been, I do see a potential silver lining. . . We can draw something positive out of this economic contraction if we can apply it to the larger problem we face in St. Louis. The infrastructure we have here was built for a larger Jewish community. As our community contracts, we need to contract physically with it, while keeping our vision large and future-oriented. Otherwise we will have too many agencies trying to survive on smaller and smaller pieces of the pie. And more importantly, too many of our people not getting the services they need because our community is not rationally structured to help them.”

Looking towards the future, Neuman said, “As a result of our current crisis we have an exciting opportunity for every Jewish organization to review how it operates, to eliminate services which are duplicated by other organizations and to collaborate with other organizations to reduce operating costs.”

Neuman, who will serve as JFed president for two years, talked about the importance of Jewish continuity, saying that “unlike the generations of our parents and grandparents, we have a choice about being Jewish.” He stressed the need to improve and expand Jewish educational opportunities and to attract and retain young Jewish people as well as the need to foster community harmony and involve people from “all segments of our community and representing people from all of our congregations” as exemplified by the inclusive 119-member Federation Board of Trustees, created in 2005.

“If we can pull together, I know we will find solutions to all of our challenges,” Neuman said.

Other officers nominated and elected for one-year terms are: Harvey Wallace, vice president financial and human resource development; Robert Millstone, vice president, campaign; John Kalishman, vice president finance/treasurer; Sherri Frank Weintrop, vice president planning and allocation; Todd Siwak, vice president strategic plannning; Randall Green, vice president/at large secretary and Sheila Greenbaum, immediate past president (two-year term).