Gregg Roman found himself on the go in his first weeks as the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s community relations director.
He attended a Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network meeting, sat in on a Jewish Social Justice Roundtable session, witnessed Mayor Luke Ravenstahl signing of a compact seeking immigration reform, took notes at the Oakland Community Relations Council meeting and went to meetings at the Jewish Community Center, Urban League, Jewish Federation, J Street Pittsburgh and Aish HaTorah.
It’s all in a day’s work.
But Roman, who succeeds Jeffrey Cohan as community relations director, isn’t complaining. In fact, getting out into the Jewish and Greater Pittsburgh communities is part of his job as Jewish Pittsburgh’s chief liaison and advocate.
“My job is to go to all those places,” he said, “not so much to advocate the Federation’s position because I’m not in that position yet, but to listen to what other communities have to say, to bring that information back to the office and at the end of the day tell [Community Relations Council officials] what’s going on in the city, how it affects the Jewish community, and then my job will be to take their opinions and convey their position to these other community groups.”
Roman, who started Oct. 21, takes on his newest job at a time when the CRC is being restructured. The Federation’s board of directors is expected to vote later this month on a new mission statement for the CRC, and approve a
restructuring plan, which will set up a steering committee of volunteers and delegates assembly comprised of representatives from Jewish organizations and congregations.
The new structure, which has been in the planning stage for several months, has the potential to create a more effective community relations council, according to CRC Chair Skip Grinberg. He envisions the delegates assembly setting policy for the CRC while the steering committee develops strategy.
“I think it has a much better chance of being a more effective CRC,” Grinberg said.
For Roman, a 27-year-old former high school wrestler who made aliya while in college, staffing the re-vamped CRC may be challenging, but he’s no stranger to challenges.
The Yardley, Pa., native worked as a firefighter in northern Israel during the war with Lebanon. From there, he went on to work as a political advisor to the Office of Deputy Foreign Minister and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He managed international civil coordination in the Palestinian territories, provided reports and analysis on the relationship between the IDF, the Palestinian Authority, and international bodies such as embassies and the United Nations.
Part of his job with the IDF involved distributing beepers during Operation Cast Lead to residents of Sderot who could not hear siren warnings of incoming rockets.
“So we were sprinting from house to house while rockets were falling down on us, giving these little beepers that after they were plugged in gave a beeper notice when a rocket fell,” he said.
Roman also served as a consultant to the Israeli Ministries of Education, Diaspora Affairs, Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office; he spent five years managing his own political consulting firm for Jewish nonprofit organizations and Israeli political parties, in addition to working in Jewish nonprofit and education management.
Prior to taking the CRC job, he was director of development and communications for the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center in Herzliya and served as Middle East analyst and on-air personality for Al Jazeera English.
While he developed good relations with officials at Qatar-based Al Jazeera, he does not think the news network is fair and balanced.
“I think the coverage is not fair and don’t think it was balanced,” he said. “That’s the reason I went on there, because the people who were representing the Israeli point of view were always in a mire and they were always murky. … You couldn’t get someone on that show who didn’t represent a polarized position, and my job … was to take factual-based analysis and give educated opinions, not based on ideology but based on what was going on on the ground.”
Roman also sees his job as providing accurate information for the community to form knowledgeable opinions about many issues, but especially about Israel.
“Having been there in Israel for the last seven years I hope I can bring my experiences with me and not necessarily just educate the community, but act as a fair facilitator of the conversation that maybe needs to be had, of how we can come back together as a community.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)