Andrew Rehfeld, president and chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, is leaving his position to become the 13th president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), the Jewish Light has learned. Rehfeld will begin his new appointment with HUC-JIR on April 1, and plans to stay at Federation until March 31.
“We’re extremely sad to see Andrew go, but we certainly understand what a great opportunity this is,” said Gerry Greiman, chairman of the board of Federation. “He will be in a position to have a major impact on the Jewish world both nationally and internationally. We certainly wish him well.”
Rehfeld, 52, who began his tenure with Federation on Sept. 1, 2012, succeeds Rabbi Aaron Panken at HUC-JIR. Panken, 53, died in May when the small plane he was piloting crashed about 70 miles northwest of New York City. He had been president at HUC-JIR for four years.
The appointment of Rehfeld marks the first time in HUC-JIR’s 143-year history that the institution is not led by a rabbi.
“We are honored and delighted to welcome Andrew Rehfeld as our new President,” said Joy G. Greenberg, chair of the HUC-JIR Presidential Search Committee. “A distinguished academic and creative thought leader, Andrew is uniquely qualified intellectually, spiritually and professionally to lead the College-Institute in our mission to transform the Jewish community and the broader world. Andrew brings to HUC-JIR a passion for teaching and scholarship, as well as exemplary leadership skills that have set him apart as a dynamic visionary and community builder."
Prior to joining the Federation, Rehfeld was a tenured professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis.
As HUC-JIR President, Rehfeld will lead the international institution of Jewish higher education and seminary for Reform Judaism, which has campuses in Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles and Jerusalem. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve as rabbis, cantors, educators and nonprofit management professionals. The school also offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths.
Rehfeld, who plans to reside in New York City with his wife, Dr. Miggie Greenberg, will also hold a tenured faculty position as professor of political thought. In addition to overseeing the four HUC-JIR campuses, he will manage an annual operating budget of more than $41 million, 36 full-time tenured faculty and an enrollment of about 400 full-time students and 800 part-time education students, graduate students, and undergraduate students at HUC-JIR’s partner institutions, University of Southern California and Xavier University.
HUC-JIR’s 4,000 alumni serve the Reform Movement’s 1.5 million members and nearly 900 congregations, representing the largest Jewish denomination in North America and the growing Progressive Movement in Israel and around the world.
“While I am humbled and excited at this new opportunity, it will be difficult to leave the work we have been doing here in St. Louis,” said Rehfeld. “We have worked hard over the last seven years to reposition Federation and we have a great team. We’re doing really impactful work both here and internationally.”
Among the accomplishments he cited as being most proud of are implementing a more collaborative, “bottom-up,” community-focused engagement approach at Federation; championing the 2014 St. Louis Jewish community demographic study — the first in 20 years; collaborating with the Jewish Community Center to mount in October the Sababa Jewish Arts & Cultural Festival, which he hopes becomes a biennial event; and helping to establish the St. Louis Jewish Light as a free-subscription model.
Rehfeld also explained that what most appealed to him was how the HUC-JIR position merged his “three worlds” — academics and university life with Jewish communal leadership and his own commitment to liberal Judaism.
“Not only wasn’t I expecting this, but when they first contacted me I was not expecting this to pan out,” he said. “Every student who is trained at HUC is going to lead the pre-eminent institutions of Reform Judaism, which is the largest branch in North America and increasingly in Israel. The ability to have this kind of influence to shape Jewish professional life for the Jewish people internationally is too good an opportunity to pass up.”
While praising Rehfeld as “a visionary and transformative leader who has done a fantastic job here,” Greiman said he believes Federation is now stronger than it has ever been.
“We have a clear path and direction,” he said. “We will be looking for someone who can continue that direction and upward trajectory. We don’t have any preconceived notions. We’re not necessarily looking for a traditional Jewish communal leader nor are we ruling that out.”
Greiman added that he expects to convene a committee to conduct a national search for Rehfeld’s successor after the first of the year. He said further announcements will be made in the coming weeks regarding the search and interim arrangements for Federation’s professional leadership.