After about a year of searching for the right person for the job, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has hired Rob Goodman of Upper St. Clair to serve as the director of the new South Hills Engagement Initiative, effective July 15.
SHEI was created last year after the Federation received $1 million in donations specifically earmarked to create a new community engagement initiative in the South Hills.
The money came from two individual donors — one who is a South Hills resident and one who is not — with the intent to support existing Jewish institutions in a cooperative effort to increase participation in Jewish communal activities.
Further fundraising efforts have boosted the coffers for the project to $2 million over five years, according to Joshua Donner, planning director of the Federation.
“The goal is to have more people engaging Jewishly, and to strengthen the Jewish community of the South Hills by strengthening its individual institutions, and through collaboration,” Donner said.
While the South Hills already boasts a strong and active Jewish community, which includes established institutions such as the South Hills Jewish Community Center, Beth El Congregation, Temple Emanuel and Chabad of the South Hills, “this is an opportunity to do even more,” said Donner.
Goodman comes to his new position with 27 years of experience in event, entertainment and sports marketing, branding, sponsorships, media relations and facility management, as well as a history of Jewish volunteerism.
He moved to Pittsburgh’s South Hills from New Orleans eight years ago. He resided briefly in Bethel Park and for the last six years has lived with his wife, Lisa, and their four children in Upper St. Clair. He is a member of Temple Emanuel and served on its board of directors for four years.
Goodman most recently served as the senior vice president of marketing for the Pittsburgh Power Arena Football League club and spent six and a half years as the assistant general manager/director of marketing of CONSOL Energy Center and Mellon Arena. He is a native of the Philadelphia area.
“I’m thrilled,” Goodman said of his new position. “The anticipated start date next week really has my juices flowing.”
Goodman plans to commence his tenure with a fact-finding mission consisting of one-on-one visits with an array of Jewish South Hills residents, he said.
“I want to find out what they want, what they’re looking for,” he said. “That’s the part of the job that’s most intriguing: to find out what they’re interested in and how we can make that happen.”
Active in the Pittsburgh Jewish community since his arrival here, Goodman served on the Federation’s Jewish Community Life Commission, co-chairing the marketing committee of Pittsburgh Hillel JUC’s Campus Superstar. While in New Orleans he served on the board of directors for the JCC and Tulane Hillel and was a member of the Federation’s Lemann-Stern Young Leadership Development Program.
Specifics of SHEI will not be hammered out until Goodman gets input from the stakeholders, he said, including those in the community who are not affiliated with established Jewish organizations.
“I want to meet with everyone I can,” he said. “All the rabbis and the executive directors of the synagogues and the JCC. And I want to meet with individual members of the synagogues and those who aren’t members. I am going to try to uncover those who no one has really reached out to.”
Reaching out to the unaffiliated is a large part of his charge, Goodman said.
“I’ve already run across some people who aren’t engaged, and I’ve asked them why,” he said. “It’s interesting to hear their stories.”
Living in the South Hills for eight years, Goodman said, has provided him with a good sense of the community, and he is ready to dive into his new position headfirst.
“My life is to immerse myself in the Jewish culture of the South Hills and to see how we can move forward,” he said. “My job is to enhance, to learn and to educate. I’ve been given a tremendous opportunity, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Pittsburgh’s South Hills has about 3,000 Jewish households, according to the 2002 Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study.
“The South Hills is well poised to respond to the new needs of a rapidly changing Jewish world,” Donner said, referencing wider demographic trends showing diminishing engagement among certain subsets of the Jewish population.
“It’s safe to assume that the trends that are happening in the world are happening in the South Hills as well,” Donner continued. “The South Hills at its core has some strong institutions. They are great assets to build on to work on an engagement agenda. We hope this will provide a blueprint for other suburban areas around Pittsburgh and then around the country.”
Goodman’s professional and volunteer experiences provide a solid background for his new position, Donner said.
“Rob has an incredible passion for everything this initiative is trying to accomplish, including building off the sense of a strong community in the South Hills, and helping people find more ways to engage Jewishly,” Donner noted. “Rob has a strong background in community building and working with people.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)