A Response to Rabbi Feldstein

I want to respond to Rabbi Feldstein’s comments on June 29, 2012 about the Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ Board of Directors’ decision to hire Dr. Andrew Rehfeld as the new CEO and President.

I am in a unique position to respond – both as 30+ year career Jewish professional and in my current position as Director of the Millstone Institute for Jewish Leadership and staff for JProStl in St. Louis. I want to note that I am responding through my own lens, not the company line.

A dozen years ago, our current Federation CEO and President Barry Rosenberg recognized that our community needed to begin investing significant resources into professional development. Clearly our profession was changing. Successful Jewish professionals were leaving the Jewish community for better pay and/or better hours and, even then, those with non-traditional backgrounds were starting to assume professional leadership roles. There was concern about where future professionals would come from and how they would be trained.

With significant support from Lubin-Green Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, the St. Louis Jewish community has invested more per capita in Jewish professional development than perhaps any other community in the country. We have grown JProStl , our local professional association, into what we hope is a model for professional training and collaboration. Brenda Gevertz, Executive Director of JCSA, and a national professional development network provide ongoing guidance and camaraderie in this effort.

Just 18-months ago we expanded to launch the Millstone Institute for Jewish Leadership to support and strengthen board leaders, volunteers and professionals and address the big picture of community-wide leadership development. Our effort crosses institutional, religious, geographic and age boundaries to offer training, build relationships, share challenges and celebrate successes.

In the 30 years since I began my career, our work has grown much more complex. Like Rabbi Feldstein, I too initially felt a loss when the Jewish professional academic degree was no longer seen as the only path for community leadership.

Yet, my views have changed. Many of my most valued colleagues today come from very different backgrounds, including the business sector. The strength of many of our communities is choosing the right person for the job and, as a result, I believe careers in the Jewish professional realm have risen in stature.

An indication of that is the willingness of a person of Andrew Rehfeld’s caliber to leave his position as a professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis to join the Federation here as our next CEO and President. Dr. Rehfeld is a knowledgeable and deeply committed Jew with a keen intellect and outstanding interpersonal skills. As a classically trained Jewish professional, I am thrilled when exceptional professionals want to join us in the deeply meaningful and important work of strengthening our Jewish communities.

I write this response not to defend the decision, rather to celebrate the possibilities. And I hope that in the future other communities committed to professional development will invest resources, as St. Louis has done, in order to strengthen professionals, their organizations and the community as a whole. I believe the return on investment is significant.

Marci Mayer Eisen is Director of the Millstone Institute for Jewish Leadership, a community-wide initiative of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis to strengthen professional, board and volunteer leadership. She previously worked at the St. Louis JCRC and spent the majority of her career at the St. Louis JCC. Marci is a graduate of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work of Yeshiva University.