Getting a realistic picture of the St. Louis Jewish community

Andrew Rehfeld

By Andrew Rehfeld

In 1994, St. Louis had 60,000 individuals living in Jewish homes, 54,000 of whom, or about 90 percent, identified as Jewish. In 2015, what will the numbers be? 

With national trends of intermarriage continuing, we expect that proportion to change. But what about the overall numbers? Are we still a community of 60,000 individuals living in Jewish homes, have we declined, have we grown … and by how much? And are we still heading west toward St. Charles, or are we wandering back in an easterly direction?

On Feb. 18, we will  find out. The results of our first Jewish Community Study in 20 years will be released at a public presentation. The study will tell us a lot about our community. It will tell us how many people are part of it, where we live and what our needs are. It will help us to understand what matters to us Jewish-ly, where we are engaged and where we are not. It will provide some ideas of where our efforts might be most effective and where they might be less so. 

In short, it will provide feedback for our synagogues, organizations and agencies to work more effectively to achieve their missions. And that includes Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ mission of “preserving and enhancing Jewish community.”

The study was built to truly meet the needs of our community. To ensure that as many voices as possible were heard, we put together an advisory committee in the fall of 2013 whose members  were involved with many parts of Jewish life, and including some who were not as involved. 

Last winter, we conducted a wide range of focus groups from congregations, schools and agencies  and actively sought to hear from people who were less involved. The committee spent hours working with our research group, Jewish Policy & Action Research (JPAR), developing a questionnaire out of the hundreds of possible questions proposed.

By April, the work of executing the study was turned over to JPAR, which trained professionals to call more than 1,000 members of our community. We had one of the largest response rates for surveys of this kind, thanks to the great work of our marketing staff, whose “Count Me In” campaign raised awareness for our efforts.

Over the past three months, our committee studied the initial results to provide one last set of eyes  on the data and make sure the results made sense. 

On Feb. 18, the international research team from JPAR will be with us to share the results. That day will mark the release of the first report, but we will be working with congregations, agencies and other community organizations to make sure that the data we have collected are used in a more focused way to address their needs.

The study is a good example of Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ role in building and developing our community through supporting our infrastructure. There is no other communitywide organization that could mount such a project aimed at meeting the needs of all.

The study has been staffed by study manager Susan Scribner, and the committee has been chaired by Les Sterman. Other members include Patty Croughan (ex-officio), Jeff Glogower, Gerald Greiman (ex-officio), Harvey Hieken, Paul Kravitz, Mark Levin, Emily Stein MacDonald, Neil Marglous, Michael Novack, Ruth Raskas (ex-officio), Barry Seeskin, Karen Tabak and Greg Yawitz.

I would like to thank all of those who made this possible, including a significant investment by the Hiekens and additional funding from the Lubin-Green Foundation, the Morton J. and Morton D. May Fund of the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation, and an anonymous donor, along with contributions to our annual campaign from donors like you.

Andrew Rehfeld is president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.