Bet Shalom's New President, Rob Kieval
Get to know Rob and his involvement at the synagogue.
Robert Kieval, Bet Shalom’s incoming president, was interviewed recently by Eric Bressler. Rob talks about his life and family in some detail, and he discusses his past and ongoing involvement at Bet Shalom.
Congratulations on becoming Bet Shalom’s new President, Rob, and thanks in advance! Let’s help the congregation get to know you better with this interview. Please tell us about your family, when you moved to Minnesota, and when you joined Bet Shalom.
I’m a New Yorker by birth and completed all of my education on the East Coast. I completed my undergraduate (BA) and graduate (VMD, PhD) studies at The University of Pennsylvania, and my post-doctoral Fellowship at The University of Maryland at Baltimore. Kay and I were married in 1990 and moved to Minnesota in 1992, where she is originally from and where I began my professional career. Natasha and Mariel, our two daughters, were born here in 1992 and 1996, respectively. We joined Bet Shalom in 1997 and have been members since then. Natasha and Mariel both had their bat mitzvahs and confirmations at Bet Shalom.
And your professional life?
I’ve spent my career in health care, developing and commercializing medical devices to improve the treatment of patients. While I spent my early years working at a large manufacturer (Medtronic), I’ve spent most of my career as an entrepreneur in start-ups and small companies focused on cardiovascular disease, women’s health, and a variety of other prevalent disease areas. Currently I run the US headquarters for a company based in Paris, France that provides R&D services to medical device companies worldwide.
You first got involved at Bet Shalom in 2011 by taking on a big job, establishing and running the Etz Chaim Campaign for the Bet Shalom Endowment. It was really successful! Tell us about your experience.
Well it was quite an effort, but it was a labor of love, and I’m grateful for that opportunity to Steven Snyder who was the President of Bet Shalom at the time. Our family has benefited from Bet Shalom in countless ways over our more than two decades of membership, and helping to ensure Bet Shalom’s financial future with Etz Chaim was an entirely worthy endeavor. Bet Shalom is an inclusive, values-driven organization committed to the personal, social, and spiritual welfare of our member families, and to our interfaith relations in our community. This made it easy to have conversations with prospective donors and encouraged their generosity. Participating in Etz Chaim gave everyone the opportunity to become a Founder of Bet Shalom’s future by helping to make Bet Shalom sustainable for many years to come. And thanks to the ongoing efforts by Tom Meyers, Rabbi Cohen and others, Bet Shalom’s endowment continues to grow toward our ultimate goal of $10 million.
And for seven years you were on the Endowment Board of Trustees. How was that?
It was a natural extension of my work with Etz Chaim, working with you and our fellow Trustees to oversee and safeguard the management of our congregation’s largesse. It has been so gratifying to see the endowment generate substantial funds for Bet Shalom annually that help us use our financial resources to pursue our values and goals, not simply to pay our bills.
Then in 2020 you were elected to the Bet Shalom Board of Trustees as a Vice President on the Executive Committee. You’ve been chairing the COVID Response Team?
Well I always seem to find myself diving right into the deep end of the pool. There has been so much at stake during the pandemic – the physical and emotional health of our Clergy, staff and congregation, the safety of our building, maintaining spiritual connections with our member families and finding ways for them to be able to experience life cycle events in meaningful ways. The CRT has been working diligently to address all of these while following the evolving health authority guidelines and best practices. We’re as eager as everyone else to reach the point where the pandemic is behind us, but right now there is still a need for vigilance and caution.
You’ve led corporate organizations. How are you expecting running the Bet Shalom Board to be similar and different?
Bet Shalom is also a business, and as such will require appropriate governance and fiduciary responsibility by its leaders. It’s an organization with obligations to our employees, a building to maintain, and bills for utilities and services that need to be paid. But of course our goals are much different from those of a commercial enterprise, so our process has to be different as well. Our Board and Committee members are all volunteers who can easily choose to spend their time elsewhere. I’ll strive to follow the great examples set by our previous presidents: combining servant leadership and active listening to the voices of others with principled decision-making for the benefit of Bet Shalom.
What are your short-term and long-term goals for your two-year term as President?
I have two short-term goals. One is to support the Clergy and staff to shepherd Bet Shalom through the end of the pandemic. The other is to help develop a common vision for a post-pandemic “new normal” that restores our traditional synagogue practices while integrating some of the innovative ways we learned to continue to deliver meaningful experiences to our congregation over the past year. I’ve begun to formulate some ideas for long-term goals and will be excited to be able to turn increasing attention to these as we gradually emerge from the pandemic.
What do you do in your spare time?
Kay and I love nature and the outdoors. We have been avid birders and bike riders throughout our 31 years of marriage, and we plan family vacations filled with hikes in park lands and wilderness areas. I’m currently the Board Chairman at The Center for Large Landscape Conservation in Bozeman, Montana, a non-profit organization working to help wildlife and their ecosystems to adapt successfully to habitat fragmentation and climate change. At home, a crossword, Sudoku or KenKen puzzle are rarely more than an arm’s length away.
Favorite Jewish Holiday and foods?
My tastes tend toward the savory, so I love a good matzoh ball soup and even look forward to having gefilte fish on Passover (even though I’m the only one in my family who’ll eat it!). As for the Jewish holidays, I always find Yom Kippur to be incredibly moving and thought-provoking. I’ve also had the great honor of reading Torah on Yom Kippur for many years, making it a truly immersive experience.
I want to say how grateful I am to Kay, Natasha, and Mariel, without whose constant support I could not have possibly given Bet Shalom the time and attention that I do and that it deserves.