United Hebrew Congregation has hired a new executive director who has long ties to the Reform synagogue.
Daryl Rothman and his wife, Linda, married married in 1995 with UH Rabbi Howard G. Kaplansky officiating.
“We had been talking to various rabbis and [the rabbi] on behalf of the synagogue had given us that warm, connected feeling, where he really asked us questions about us. We always remembered that, and that was in the back of my mind as I started,” Rothman said, referring to his new executive director position.
Priorities for Rothman and UH include improving security and membership engagement, he and the board president said.
Rothman, 49, started at UH in May. He most recently worked as co-executive director and program officer at United 4 Children, a nonprofit that works to prevent youth violence, child neglect, abuse and learning delays. He has also served in leadership roles at Parents as Teachers National Center, the Missouri Coordinating Board for Early Childhood, Youth in Need and the Jewish Community Center of St. Louis.
“Daryl just emerged as a great choice,” UH president David G. Rosenstock said. “His background in the St. Louis community, in Jewish agencies, as well as other nonprofits has positioned him very well to take on this role for us at United Hebrew.
“Daryl is thoughtful about various aspects of community and leadership and administration.” Rosenstock appreciates “his intellectual curiosity, the way he approaches staff and membership with very good interpersonal skills.”
Rothman and congregation leaders are talking with local police and Scott Biondo, Jewish Federation of St. Louis community security director, about improving security, which has become a more urgent priority for congregations in the wake of recent synagogue shootings in California and Pennsylvania.
The goal is finding that “elusive balance between strengthening our security without feeling like we need to chain ourselves down and be in a prison-type environment and move away from who we are,” Rothman said.
That means the congregation is evaluating its security practices and technology and will then determine “what investments are needed and potentially obtain funding for those,” said Rosenstock. He added that Rothman’s background in nonprofits could help the congregation acquire grants through other organizations.
In order to improve engagement, Rothman, who lives in Olivette, also plans to do listening tours with congregants and board members.
He wants “to get to know them, their priorities, things they are liking, things they are concerned about,” he said.
Rothman is also an author. He has a young-adult fantasy novel featuring a protagonist named after his first two children that will be republished in a series later this summer.
He said he was intrigued by the challenge of helping the congregation as it struggles with declining membership, like many other congregations nationwide.
“The confluence of where I am at in my life and my professional career made this a dream opportunity for me,” Rothman said. “The opportunity to step in when we know that synagogues all over the country, while they have made great strides, are struggling mightily in terms of growing their membership, keeping people engaged and finding ways to meet a complex and diverse Jewish community where they are.”
On his plans for the congregation, Rothman, a father of three, said, “I think with an endeavor like this, when you have got a venerable institution with many staff members, clergy and congregants who have been there a long time, you need to humble yourself when you come in a leadership position and watch, listen and learn. … I know we have to evolve and change but always maintain the foundation of what has made United Hebrew be what and who it is and never lose the basis of our tradition.”