Gregg Roman, who has served as the director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council for the past three years, will be moving to Philadelphia in August to head up a Middle East think tank.
Roman has been hired as the new director of the Middle East Forum, which was founded by historian and political commentator Daniel Pipes in 1990 to focus on protecting American interests and Western values in the Middle East.
Roman was just 27 years old when he first met Jeff Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Federation, and other leaders of the Pittsburgh Jewish community who were in Israel on a Federation-sponsored centennial mission. Roman, who grew up in Philadelphia, was living in Israel at the time and had applied for the CRC director position in Pittsburgh.
“Four of us had coffee with him,” recalled Finkelstein. “He really impressed us. We loved his energy, his drive and his knowledge.”
Now, just a few years later, Jewish Pittsburgh has seen Roman put that energy to good use as director of the CRC, strengthening community relations, advancing local Israel advocacy initiatives and fostering connections within the divergent segments of greater Pittsburgh’s Jewish population.
“Gregg is constantly coming up with new ideas and new strategies,” Finkelstein said.
During his tenure, Roman has deepened the imprint of Jewish Pittsburgh within the community at large. He has developed close relationships with different churches, the African-American community and the LGBT community, Finkelstein said. He has played a major role in establishing the Pittsburgh/Israel Business Council (a new initiative that will be covered in an upcoming Chronicle story), and he led the CRC to play a “key role” with the Corporate Equity and Inclusion Roundtable, an organization that promotes the hiring of minorities and those with disabilities in the workforce.
Roman also helped propel Vibrant Pittsburgh, an organization that gives mini-grants to small nonprofits doing good work in the community.
Roman’s talents are “exceptional,” according to Skip Grinberg, chair of the CRC.
“Gregg changed the landscape,” Grinberg said. “He has shown Pittsburgh, and particularly the Federation, what the CRC can be, and he expanded it.”
Roman had three strategic missions when he assumed his role as CRC director: intrafaith outreach, interfaith outreach and Israel advocacy, Grinberg said.
“We sat down and we developed a strategic plan for 2013 and 2014, which we thought was a little aggressive,” he recalled. “Gregg got it all done in one year.”
In addition to forging relationships with a variety of neighborhood organizations in the greater Pittsburgh community, Roman has reached out to the smaller congregations in the region, Grinberg said, including those in Greensburg and Monroeville. There, Roman led programs on the history of Israel, which drew audiences of up to 70 people, thus widening the embrace of the Federation.
“Gregg understands that in order to do community relations, you have to have relations,” Finkelstein said.
Roman was also a key player in developing the CRC’s delegate assembly, which brings together leaders of 75 local congregations and other Jewish non-profits twice a year to develop a consensus on Jewish community policies. A policy on inclusion that came out of the delegate assembly went on to be adopted by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs at its national meeting, as well as by 124 individual CRCs throughout the country.
He also has energized a core group of lay leaders who are actively involved in the CRC’s work through serving in its steering committee.
The CRC has expanded in scope, as well as geographic breadth, on Roman’s watch, as he formed relationships on behalf of Jewish Pittsburgh in surrounding areas where the Jewish population is small, or nonexistent, such as Shenango, Sharon, Erie and New Castle.
Roman is proud of his many accomplishments as CRC director, including the renewed relationship between Pittsburgh’s Jews and its African-American community, his work in combatting anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity on Pittsburgh’s college campuses and in preventing anti-Semitic incidents in communities throughout Western Pennsylvania.
“We had over 20 briefings with superintendents and school officials regarding fighting anti-Semitism in the classroom,” Roman said. “Whenever there was an anti-Semitic incident, the CRC was there to address it and to ensure an active prevention program.”
The CRC also has worked to “increase Israel’s place in the minds of Western Pennsylvanians,” Roman said, “from churches to universities to civic groups, to other non-profit organizations, to government officials and also within the Jewish community itself.”
Roman, who turned 30 last week, is excited to go back to Philadelphia, which he said is the place “where I embraced my Jewish identity.”
It was in Philly that Roman became active in USY, the youth group of the Conservative movement, which in turn inspired him to live in Israel for a time.
“I find it interesting that everything has come full circle as I’m turning 30,” he said.
Roman is looking forward to his new role at the Middle East Forum, he said, adding that his objective there will be to help “bring sanity back to American Middle East policy.”
He intends to use the national platform to “bring an active coalition to promote American interests in the Middle East,” he said.
Those interests include defending and strengthening America’s relationship with Israel, embracing modern democratic movements in the Middle East, “and protecting those willing to speak out against Middle East atrocities and genocides,” Roman said.
Roman will be taking a group of University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University student leaders to Israel late this summer as his last enterprise as CRC director before he heads to Philadelphia.
The Federation is currently looking for a successor for Roman, but his presence here will be missed, said Grinberg. “Gregg’s energy and dedication to the work were phenomenal. I’ve probably learned a lot more from him than he’s learned from me.”
His contributions to Jewish Pittsburgh were significant, according to Finkelstein.
“I think what Gregg helped all of us realize is what possibilities are out there if we do it really well,” Finkelstein said. “We are really proud of Gregg, and his new position in such a prominent organization. He will be doing bigger and better things for the Jewish and greater world.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.