A newsmaker you should know: After years in Israel, executive makes home here
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For someone whose new job is to advocate for the region's Jewish community, Gregg Roman has had a meaningful beginning.
Two days after his belongings arrived by ship in Newark from Israel, Hurricane Sandy dealt him and his family a blow. When the container holding everything but what he and his wife, Anat, packed in their suitcases arrived at their home in Edgewood, it was obvious that storm damage left nothing to be salvaged. Within hours, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, where he was named director of the community relations council, came to the rescue with help.
A native of Yardley, Bucks County, Mr. Roman started his new job with the federation in October, and before he had a chance to get his feet wet, a new war between Israel and Palestinians broke out Nov. 20 in Gaza.
"Within days, the Jewish community in the Pittsburgh area responded by raising $100,000 for victims in southern Israel," he said. "Later, when 700 people gathered at the federation to hear a speech by Israeli deputy consul general, Elad Strohmayer, which I organized, I knew I was in the right place."
Mr. Roman has had an adventurous career. As a teen, he recalled, his two major motivations were his Jewish identity and wrestling, a sport he was so good at he won a wrestling scholarship to American University, where he enrolled in its National Security Studies Program.
"Within weeks, I had a career-ending injury and had to decide whether to continue my studies on my own or start working," he said.
A month later, he took a part-time job with the International Law Institute as a research coordinator for cyber terrorism information warfare.
In the June of 2006, after joining an American University study abroad language immersion program at Haifa University, he moved to Israel, where he studied Hebrew. Two days later, Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldier. The following week, Hezbollah shot and killed two more soldiers, and the very next day war broke out with Lebanon.
"I was studying in my dorm and rockets were falling all around me," he said. "I'd had some first responder experience in the United States and decided to join the fire department program for overseas volunteers and spent the rest of the war there."
After hostilities ended, he remained in Israel and transferred from American University to the Interdisciplinary Center, a university in Herzliya, 10 miles north of Tel Aviv.
After he met his wife, he decided to apply for dual American-Israeli citizenship and was immediately drafted into the army. Because of his experience, he entered the Humanitarian and International Affairs Department of the Israeli Department of Defense. He worked there two years as coordinator of government activities in the Palestinian territories.
After leaving the army, he began working at the Interdisciplinary Center as development director for a think tank and also got involved in politics.
"My army experience put me in the right place at the right time, and I built a lot of important contacts with stakeholders ... ," he said.
He was a political adviser to Israel's deputy foreign minister, Denny Ayalon, and was a broadcast analyst for Al Jazeera English, a position he still holds.
When an Israeli election resulted in what he calls "a political metamorphosis," he began rethinking career options. After the birth of his daughter Ariel, now 9 months old, he and his wife decided to move to the U.S.
"I wanted to be a good father for my child by having a stable job," he said. "I also wanted her to live close to her paternal grandparents, who reside in Philadelphia."
When a colleague at the Jewish Federation of North America told him about the Pittsburgh post, he applied and was hired.
"I had the privilege of being at the interview with Gregg in Tel Aviv last June," said Jeff Finkelstein, president and CEO of the federation. "I was impressed by his intelligence, his drive, his passion and his real desire to build relationships within the Jewish community and with other communities."
First Published February 7, 2013 5:38 am