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Federation speakers upbeat at 118th Annual Meeting

The Jewish Federation of St. Louis held its 118th Annual Meeting last week, which was attended by an overflow audience of veteran and newly active members and volunteers. The atmosphere was upbeat as Federation leadership reflected on the past two years as “a period of transition”—including an ongoing search for a new CEO and president to succeed Andrew Rehfeld. The leaders also looked forward to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

Highlights of the meeting included the completion of a two-year term by Gerry Greiman as chair of the Federation and the election and installation of Greg Yawitz as the new chair, along with other officers and key committee chairs. Various community awards were also presented to individuals for their exemplary community service (see infobox on page 4). 

In his remarks as outgoing chair, Greiman said he had been “honored and humbled to serve as board chair of the Federation for these past two years.” He also thanked his fellow officers and praised his successor. “Greg has done a great deal of work and a fabulous job these past two years in leading the transformation of our planning and allocations work into a new community impact model, under our 2017 Strategic Plan.  I know we will be in good hands under Greg’s leadership.”

Greiman stressed that “our lay leadership is only one half of our leadership equation, with the other half being our professional leadership and staff, whom I also want to acknowledge and thank.” He praised former CEO Rehfeld, who stepped down in the spring to become president of Hebrew Union College, as well as the interim leadership team, which has included Don Hannon, Karen Sher and Michael Oberlander (who recently left St. Louis to make aliyah), as well as Mindee Fredman and Julie Gibbs. 

Greiman said that over the past two years of his term, Federation has focused on implementing four “core commitments that guide the work we do.” Those include “expanding and strengthening an engaged, vibrant and flourishing Jewish community; securing the well-being and safety of individuals within our community;  strengthening our connection to Israel and the Jewish people worldwide; and developing financial and human resources, and infrastructure needed by our Jewish community.”

Greiman said Federation’s engagement efforts have included the Sababa cultural arts festival in the fall of 2018, the joint venture with the Jewish Light to greatly expand the paper’s reach in the community, the revamp and relaunch of Federation’s Young Professionals Division (YPD), work with Next Gen members of the community, support for new and innovative groups like MaTovu in South City, and other initiatives. 

Greiman also discussed security initiatives Federation has undertaken. 

“Unfortunately, in these times of increasing gun violence and growing anti-Semitism, we must be ever-vigilant in our security precautions. Federation has been playing a leading role in that area,” he said. “Over the past many months, we have provided both funding and consultant services regarding security to many community agencies and institutions.  And, we are working on a plan that will involve substantially greater degrees and services to address the security needs of our community.”

Greiman also noted plans to significantly expand the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, including increasing its size, creating a separate entrance and revamped programming to help make sure the world never forgets the lessons of the Holocaust in the world today. He thanked Gloria Feldman and Carol Staenberg for their leadership in moving the project forward, and Michael and Carol Staenberg for “what they do for the community in so many ways.”

Patty Croughan, immediate past chair of Federation, described the various activities and innovations of the organization over the past two years and expressed optimism that as the new board chair, Yawitz will build on the accomplishments of Greiman as the community moves forward. 

Both Greiman and Croughan encouraged those in attendance to support the “One Hundred Days to Make an Impact” Annual Campaign now underway. 

“As we come together tonight, reaffirming our commitment to the vision of a vibrant Jewish community, we can continue to leverage our collective leadership to achieve common goals,” Croughan said. 

In his remarks as the newly installed chair of the Federation, Yawitz said, “It is truly humbling to be standing here tonight as our Federation’s next board chair. I accept this position with tremendous humility and will put every effort forth to honor those who have come before me.”

Yawitz, a past president of Congregation Shaare Emeth, was previously vice chair of community investment for Federation, and served on the organization’s strategic planning committee. He was a 2008 member of the National Young Leadership Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America and was a member of the 2015 St. Louis Wexner Heritage Cohort.

Yawitz and Greiman co-chair Federation’s search committee for a new CEO. 

“I am excited to be co-chairing the search for our new CEO and know we will soon fill that position with a dynamic leader who will help us continue along the path we embarked on over two years ago with the development of our strategic plan,” Yawitz said. 

Yawitz praised the leadership of Greiman and other past board chairs, as well as Federation’s professional staff.

Looking toward the future, Yawitz said, “In a few short months the secular calendar will turn to 2020  and I believe that is a symbolic number for our St. Louis Jewish Federation. As we move into 2020, we need to have a clear vision of our path forward, as our optometrist friends would say, a ‘20/20’ vision.”

As part of that forward vision, Yawitz cited seven principles of Jewish leadership from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth of England.

“As we employ these principles of Jewish leadership, I believe we need to maintain a clear focus on Jewish unity — to embrace, honor and celebrate the incredible diversity within our Jewish community,” Yawitz said.

“There are so many amazing ways we as Jews lead our lives. We must come together for our community and be an example of what is possible.”