After much searching and interviewing, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) has chosen Paul Rockower as its new executive director.
Starting the position in late January, Rockower succeeds founding executive director Karolyn Benger, who resigned from the post in July 2018.
“Under Paul’s leadership, our local JCRC will strive to inspire, support and convene the Jewish community on key issues such as Israel’s quest for peace and security, and to promote a just society in common cause with civic, racial, ethnic and faith-based leaders,” said Congregation Kehillah Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman, a member of the JCRC board.
Rockower said he hopes to be the “glue that holds different Jewish organizations together and be the ambassador to other communities to try to see where we have common cause or issues where we can work together.”
With more than a decade of public diplomacy experience, Rockower wants to focus on “soft power.”
“Soft power basically means someone’s influence, and it’s a concept I’m going to come back to a lot in my work,” Rockower said. “We in the Jewish community have a lot of soft power; the power of our influence and the examples of our leadership mean a lot to other external groups. I think the view from outside is that we’re a lot stronger and cohesive as a community than sometimes we give ourselves credit for.”
Members of the JCRC board are excited to work with Rockower.
“He brings great talent, experience and passion to our community,” said Erika Neuberg, a member of the JCRC board. “I have no doubt that under his leadership, the JCRC will be a relevant and thriving organization for Jewish connectivity and social good.”
Rockower moved to Phoenix only a week before starting his new position. He is already working hard to expand the organization’s social media efforts. Outreach is Rockower’s current priority.
“I’ve been trying to figure out what people are working on, who to meet with, who to connect with,” Rockower said.
Rockower has had an eclectic career and has lived or studied in Israel, the Czech Republic, Morocco, Taiwan, India, Argentina, Mexico, France and Colombia. He’s worked in multiple diplomatic positions all over the world.
From 2003 to 2006, Rockower served as press officer for the Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest. He was a visiting fellow at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, and a public diplomacy consultant for INDIA Future of Change, a public-private initiative sponsored by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
He worked as director of communications for American Voices, a nonprofit that conducts cultural diplomacy in countries in conflict. As part of his role there, Rockower oversaw outreach for American Music Abroad, the U.S. Department of State’s flagship music diplomacy program.
Rockower has also worked as a journalist. Having traveled to more than 80 countries, he wrote a popular column for The Jerusalem Post called “Tales of a Wandering Jew.”
Rockower comes from an influential family. The American Jewish Press Association named its annual journalism awards, the Rockowers, after his great-grandfather, Simon Rockower. The elder Rockower was a Jewish philanthropist who helped Jewish immigrants get settled in the U.S. in the late 19th century.
Rockower said his experiences have turned him into a sort of architect of spaces where cultures can come together. Taking this job also allows Rockower to fight anti-Semitism, he said. He was in Morocco when the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally occurred in 2017.
“As I was watching the rally, I realized that all my work abroad didn’t matter if things domestically weren’t working,” Rockower said. “I really felt like I wanted to get my hands involved here in America in a community and to try to work toward fighting anti-Semitism.”
So far, Rockower said he has felt very welcome in the Phoenix community.
“I think people really want to see this position function well and be all that it can be in the community,” Rockower said. “It’s only been a short amount of time, but I think it’s been a really great. JN