Federation joins Nixon in trade mission to Israel

Andrew Rehfeld is President and CEO of Jewish Federation of St. Louis. 

By Andrew Rehfeld

Last week, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis joined Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s trade mission to Israel, marking a new phase in our efforts to strengthen economic ties between our region and the Jewish State. These ties help the economies of both Missouri and Israel by providing greater access to markets for goods and services, and they help our region by raising awareness about Missouri’s business climate among Israeli businesses seeking to open North American offices. 

The three-day bipartisan mission was organized by the Missouri Department of Economic Development.Accompanying the governor and his wife, First Lady Georganne Nixon, were state Reps. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, the House majority floor leader; Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, the House minority floor leader; and state Sen. Joe Keavney, D-St. Louis, the Senate minority leader. The delegation also included members of the governor’s economic policy and education staff. 

Joining me from our community were Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), and Don Hannon, CFO of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. The JCRC is our lead agency working on policy and interfaith issues; Hannon will be the Federation’s lead staff person to the business community.  

The delegation attended a range of meetings with top level leaders of government, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the minister of education, and with companies seeking increased trade. We learned from Netanyahu that Israel will continue to develop cybersecurity platforms as both a commercial and national security concern. 

Our meeting with the education minister found common ground on the concerns of growing economic and educational inequality between majority and minority populations — African-Americans in the United States and Arabs and the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel. Meetings at the technology company Mobileye illustrated to us the future of automated driving. With Missouri as one of the most important producers of automobiles in the nation, this was a critical meeting. 


The delegation also spent one day meeting with companies considering opening a North American office in the region. These meetings were arranged by Vijay Chauhan of BioSTL. Chauhan and Donn Rubin, CEO of BioSTL and a Jewish Federation of St. Louis trustee, have already attracted four expansion companies to the St. Louis region. These companies have added 110 jobs and more than $25 million of investment into our region.  

The mission concluded with a productive and celebratory reception hosted at the residence of U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro, where leadership from other companies was able to network with the dignitaries. Nixon recognized the strong partnership between Missouri and Israel. As the governor liked to tell people, we don’t pass old friends to shake the hands of new ones.  

The Federation’s engagement in this latest effort to build a strong connection between our region and Israel began with our sponsorship of two bipartisan legislative missions — one in December 2012, another in 2014 — to expose members of our state leadership to the complexity and dynamism of Israel. We later supported legislation to establish a Missouri trade desk in Israel, and remain grateful for the bi-partisan leadership in the state House and Senate along with the governor’s support that led to its creation. The trade mission was a culmination of these efforts and marks a deepening of our community and region’s investment in and support of the Jewish State.  

First, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis believes that these efforts will help strengthen our region’s relationship with the State of Israel in ways that reach beyond the economic benefits to both sides. For our community, economic development provides an important way for a new generation to engage meaningfully with the Jewish State. This effort stands to counter those who seek to boycott Israel. Indeed, Federation believes that the opposite of “boycott” is “investment,” and we will continue to focus our primary efforts to invest in and engage with Israel as a more productive response to the boycott movement. 

Jewish Federation of St. Louis also has a direct self-interest in seeing that St. Louis thrives economically as a region. Our mission to “preserve and enhance Jewish life in St. Louis, Israel and around the world” requires that there be a vibrant Jewish community in St. Louis today and for generations to come. Federation must be an active participant, even if it is in a supporting role, to create an environment that will attract and retain new members of our community and help them grow their professional careers here.   

Finally, Jewish Federation of St. Louis is “here for good” in the St. Louis region. As our 2014 Jewish Community Study demonstrated, the Jewish community is fully integrated into our broader community. Roughly 50 percent of all adult Jews live in interfaith families and more than 40 percent of individuals who self-identify as Jewish live outside of our traditional geographic concentration in the central corridor of our region. 

Additionally, Jewish values are rooted in service to others and oblige us to seek justice wherever it may be. The growing recognition of racial and economic inequality in our region is an issue that we believe Jews have an obligation to help remedy. We thus recognize our role in contributing to the vibrancy of the St. Louis region and  Missouri. That is why we will continue to work to help make St. Louis a more vibrant place to live, tackling some of the most important economic, social and racial challenges we face today.  

Jewish Federation of St. Louis has been in St. Louis since 1901, providing a wide range of support for the Jewish community. Our primary mission remains focused on the social service, educational and general needs of the Jewish community. Last year, we allocated more than $13 million in support of our community and region. 

Substantial offset funding for our community’s participation in the governor’s mission was provided by the Millstone Family Foundation.