Stuart Pavilack’s new job is only a few feet from his old job, in more ways than one.
Pavilack is the new executive director for the Pittsburgh chapter of the Zionist Organization of America, and his office is directly across the hall from where he spent nearly 16 years working as a sales representative for State of Israel Bonds.
With Israel Bonds, Pavilack promoted the Jewish state by selling bonds to raise money for projects like infrastructure development. Now, he’ll be promoting Israel by organizing local programs, raising funds and bringing new members to the local chapter of ZOA.
“What interests me is Israel. That’s what brought me to State of Israel Bonds,” Pavilack said. “This is a
different way of helping and supporting Israel, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to represent the Pittsburgh district of the Zionist Organization of America.”
Pavilack, who started at ZOA June 1, is assuming the position previously held by Deborah Fidel, now the director of the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee.
Pavilack lives in his hometown of Wheeling, W. Va., where he is an active member of Temple Shalom, which was created after a merger with the synagogue he attended as a child.
“We were taught as kids to love and to support Israel, but may not have been given all the background information and the details,” he said. “I followed Israel a little bit more and more, until my passion really ratcheted up when I became involved with the State of Israel Bonds. And I still have that passion, and that’s what brought me to ZOA.”
The move across the hall wasn’t easy, though.
Pavilack was one of four employees laid off from the Pittsburgh office of State of Israel Bonds last November as part of an organizationwide effort to cut costs.
But during his years with Israel Bonds, Pavilack amassed contacts and experience that impressed ZOA, according to Larry Paper, an area lawyer and one of the members of the hiring committee responsible for filling the executive director position.
“We believe that he had the experience and the contacts in the Jewish community,” Paper said. “People know him — lots of people know him — whereas some of the other candidates that we interviewed … were relatively newcomers to the Pittsburgh area.”
Paper said the committee chose Pavilack from a pool of around six applicants.
“This was not an easy decision, because some of the other candidates were stronger in certain areas,” Paper said. “Perhaps they were younger and would have attracted even more younger people. Or perhaps they had somewhat of an Israeli background, which would have attracted perhaps another segment of the population. But we felt, overall, he was the proper person for this job.”
As executive director, Pavilack will also be ZOA’s front man for crafting and delivering responses to what the organization sees as “anti-Israel” sentiments in Pittsburgh, be it on the street or in local news outlets. That political aspect of the job will be new for Pavilack, who, in his former life as a securities trader selling a financial product, was restricted in what he could and could not say about issues affecting Israel and the Middle East.
But the jobs do overlap, according to Steve Hecht, executive director of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, one of the congregations Pavilack worked with during his time at Israel Bonds. While Israel Bonds is primarily thought of as a financial organization, Hecht said, the organization backs up that effort with information efforts, like speakers.
“The speakers have always been informative and brought us the up to date political scene in Israel today,” Hecht wrote in an e-mail. “By pointing out what your Bonds investment is being used toward, you begin to see Israel in a different light. This connection that Bonds creates should make for an easier transition for Stu as the ZOA director. Both organizations have an educational component.”
Those efforts include an upcoming program to send 10 Christian ministers to Israel with the hopes of promoting support for the country among local congregations, as well as the Tolerance Program, which teaches students about the negative results of intolerance, according to Dr. Zalman Shapiro, chairman emeritus of the local ZOA chapter.
“We’re very happy to have Stuart on board. He has a great deal of experience with programming. He has knowledge of the people in the community,” Shapiro said.
(Eric Lidji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)