Why is Federation betting on the future of the Light?

Gerry Greiman is a local attorney and Board Chair of Jewish Federation St. Louis.  

By Gerry Greiman & Andrew Rehfeld

Our mission at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis is clear: mobilize the Jewish community and its resources to preserve and enhance Jewish life in St. Louis, in Israel and around the world. Executing that mission can be more complicated.

We support nearly 100 organizations that all play roles in fulfilling this charge. Among them, the Jewish Light holds a unique place. For more than 50 years, the Light has been arriving in our homes, connecting us as a community. 

Newspapers help tell the story of a community, binding each of us individually into the collective whole. 

The Light’s journalism has informed us as no other media outlet can, about who we are as a community — here in St. Louis, our connection to our region, to Israel and to the global Jewish people. The Light has bound us together on a personal level, as well, announcing our births and our deaths, our bar/bat mitzvahs and our weddings. 

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

When a community need arises, the issue is often brought to the public’s attention through its pages, be it a news story, Ellen’s News & Schmooze column, an editorial or a letter to the editor. When a new business or service wants to let the Jewish community know of its existence, they advertise in the Light. If you are putting on an event, you better make sure it’s listed in the ChaiLights calendar.

But, as we all know, the newspaper business is changing and the Light must change with it. In this issue of the Light, you can read about how the paper is embarking on a historic transformation to better serve the Jewish community of St. Louis and to respond to the changing media landscape.

The Jewish Federation of St. Louis is proud to have assisted in this bold transformation with strategic and financial support (read related story on Page One). Working as a community development organization, we were able to raise additional funds to make a three-year, $1 million commitment to the Light to significantly improve its reach. 

About two-thirds of the financial commitment (representing the new dollars invested) came from the Staenberg Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Federation, and an anonymous family.  The remainder of the funding comes from the Federation’s usual annual investment in the Light made possible through our community investments in our annual campaign. 

We know from a Community Survey conducted in 2014 that the Jewish community in St. Louis is more widely dispersed than ever before. The survey found that almost half of Jewish households in our metropolitan region live outside of the central corridor. Additionally, we recognize that more people are getting their news sources via the web and mobile devices. 

Our investment will allow the Light to address these trends in three ways. 

First, the print edition of the Light will now be available without cost to any and all households or businesses that request it, tripling its current circulation. Second, the Light will be expanding its news boxes and stands within and outside the central corridor. Third, and maybe most importantly, the investment will be used to bolster the online presence and mobile accessibility of the Jewish Light, so its robust content can be viewed anywhere at any time.

Editorial independence is the soul of a newspaper. The Light has been editorially independent of the Federation for more than 50 years; it remains editorially independent from the Federation even now. While we have built in clear metrics for impact, our deliverables reaffirm the Light’s own mission to cover our local community as an independent news source and to make the Light accessible to a much wider audience. 

No investor should expect a newspaper to give up its soul in return for its support. We hope and expect the Light will continue to publish a range of views that represent the diversity of our community. We hope and expect to continue to be inspired, educated and engaged by that diversity. And we hope and expect that their coverage will sometimes leave us challenged or frustrated — no good newspaper leaves its readers unaffected. 

Like its name, the future of the Light is bright indeed — but only if this investment can inspire others to give as well. Our investment is significant, but it is a limited commitment to help them invest in moving to a sustainable model. The success of the Light will thus require increased financial support from each of you who also believe in its mission. We urge you to join us by increasing your own direct philanthropic support of the Light now so that it remains here in the future. 

The investment in the Light is an excellent example of the strategic and collaborative partnerships that the Federation is here to provide for the community. We welcomed the transparent, collaborative and community-focused leadership of Light Board President Steve Gallant and the Light’s new Executive Director Scott Berzon. Steve and Scott were able to look to the future to envision what we could do together to strengthen and enhance our Jewish community. The strategic vision of Staenberg Family Foundation President Michael Staenberg, along with his passion, was also critical to its success. We are fortunate as well to have had the assistance of lay and professional leadership who were instrumental in bringing about this historic agreement. 

In this way, the work of our community does require a village. And we look forward to reading about it in an expanded and even more impactful local Jewish newspaper.

Gerry Greiman is a local attorney and Board Chair of Jewish Federation St. Louis. Andrew Rehfeld is Jewish Federation’s president and CEO.