Community’s generosity deserves heartfelt thanks

Michael Oberlander

By Michael Oberlander

Thank you. Two simple words that mean so much; an expression of gratitude. Thank you can be said to an individual, or to a group. 

Over the last couple of weeks, you may have seen in the Jewish Light thank yous from the Jewish Federation of St. Louis to our many generous Annual Campaign donors. Those donors were joined in supporting the Federation’s mission by the several hundred donors to Hurricane Relief Funds, over 1,000 donors to the Cemetery Restoration and Security Fund, planned giving donors and targeted gift donors (such as to PJ Library) that collectively numbered close to 6,000 donors. Those generous people (and foundations and corporations) collectively donated approximately $25 million to the Federation in 2017 for various purposes. We are so grateful to all of our supporters for helping us to mobilize the community to preserve and enhance Jewish life in St. Louis, in Israel and around the world.

With so many donors, we have so many ways to count donors and donations. We are able to use “big data” to help us do our work better. We commissioned the first Community Study in two decades to better understand our community and its components. We can analyze the response rate to different mailings. We can look at how many events donors attended, and whether attendance at certain events impacted people’s generosity. We can look at our communal organizational leadership giving and compare it to the average. So much data and so many questions to be asked. 

We therefore might be inclined to think about our community simply in terms of numbers. That would be a mistake. And, our tradition teaches us not to do so. The prophet Hosea taught us “[t]he number of people of Israel shall be like the sands of the sea, which cannot be measured or counted.” But, we do count. Several times in the Torah in fact, the Jewish people are counted by counting half shekel coins. We do so indirectly, because each of us does count.


We count because each and every one of us is created b’tzelem Elokim, in the image of the creator of the universe. Each of us has the free will to be creative. And, most importantly, each and every one of us has infinite value. So, people are not widgets to be simply counted; we count, therefore we are careful not to count. Federation’s goal is to ensure that every individual in our community can live their life with dignity, meaning and purpose.

Federation thanked more than 4,000 donors by name; because each and every one of our donors is important. By doing so, we hope to express our gratitude to each and every one of you. 

All of our donors have a story to tell about why they made a donation. From Michael and Carol Staenberg and Ken and Nancy Kranzberg who so generously offered to match gifts made by community members, to the residents of Crown Center and Covenant Place who placed dollar bills into envelopes, each has a unique story to tell. Some of our donors are just starting to be philanthropic and others are over 100 years old. Many of you gave to the Federation this year for the first time, more returned as donors after taking some time off to support other important work, and many more of you are long-time donors who give year after year (sometimes for many decades). Thank you.

We could not possibly have reached so many donors without the hard work, wisdom and advice of our campaign chair, Tim Stern, our major gifts chair, Brad Gross, and the entire Campaign Committee joined by Federation’s Board led throughout 2017 by Gerry Greiman, current board chair, and Harvey Wallace, immediate past board chair. We also would not have been able to achieve so much success without the efforts of many development volunteers. You know who you are, but I do want to thank Ilse Altman for her many, many years of tireless effort on behalf of the community; you are always willing to talk to more people about the important work that we do. Thank you.

In 2017 Jewish Federation received its largest gift ever, from Gloria Feldman, for capital projects at the Federation and Holocaust Museum and Learning Center. The Edison family established the largest annual campaign endowment in many decades, thanks to the generosity and efforts of Julian Edison, z’l, and Andy Newman. And, Scott Lentin established the largest college scholarship fund at the Federation to help many needy college students in the forthcoming years. Each of them shared with me the reasons why giving their gifts was important to them.  Thank you.

We would love to hear from more of you as to why you make your generous gifts. What motivates you? Why did you choose to give a gift to the Federation? Please tell us by emailing us at [email protected]. Each of you is infinitely valuable, and each of your stories is infinitely interesting. Thank you. 

Michael Oberlander is the Chief Philanthropy Officer of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.