As he prepares to become the next director of the American Jewish Committee’s New Jersey Area, John Rosen is intent upon continuing the interfaith and multi-issue outreach of his predecessor, Allyson Gall.
The chapter’s development director since 2007, Rosen, an East Brunswick resident, has been a fund-raiser for much of his two decades in Jewish communal service.
In his new role, Rosen will reach outside New Jersey’s Jewish community as he seeks to continue coalitions formed by his predecessor with environmental, immigration, and human rights organizations.
“I am absolutely comfortable with this,” he said Dec. 12 in an interview at the AJC’s Millburn office. “That is a strength of AJC. It is part of our mandate and part of our responsibility as Jews to reach out and work with other groups.”
Gall will retire at the end of this month. Rosen’s appointment was announced on Dec. 9.
Like Gall — a convert from Catholicism who had considered becoming a nun — Rosen’s road to AJC leadership has taken a winding path.
He grew up in the small town of Lincoln, Mass., outside Boston and attended a public elementary school and a private secular high school called the Belmont Academy.
After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1982 with a major in German, Rosen moved to Berlin and began studying for a master’s degree in history. His next stop was New York and a job in the banking business.
“Then I decided to get into Jewish communal service,” he said.
Rosen began as an associate at the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, where he received a scholarship to obtain a master’s degree in social work at Yeshiva University.
In the years that followed, he served as campaign director for the Jewish Federations of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, then Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County in New Jersey, before becoming national director of development for United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Along the way, he and his wife, Melissa Kohn Rosen, began moving from Conservatism to Modern Orthodoxy.
Their three children began their educations at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley in East Brunswick. After a year of study in Israel, their daughter Shira is now a freshman at the University of Maryland. Their other children are students in the Jewish Educational Center network in Elizabeth: Kayla is a senior at Bruriah High School for Girls, and Yonah is a freshman at the Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy.
The family belongs to the Young Israel of East Brunswick.
“I have ties to all the movements, and we have family members that range from Conservative to unaffiliated,” Rosen said. “I am of the belief we can choose our own observance of Judaism. But in terms of the world, we have to be engaged. As an Orthodox Jew I can be Jewish but I still have to be absolutely engaged in the world. The Jewish people absolutely have a responsibility to the world to be an example, as people and as a community.”
On an national level, his organization is firmly committed to defense of gay and women’s reproductive rights — positions that run counter to the beliefs of many Orthodox Jews. Rosen is unfazed.
“I am 100 percent behind AJC’s policies,” he said. “My own view of Orthodoxy is we practice what is good for us and allow others to practice what is good for them.”
One of his main priorities is to augment the AJC area’s 5,000 members by “targeting groups that we haven’t been able to target before.”
He said one successful tactic is the “Parlor and Policy” meetings AJC holds from time to time in various parts of the state, inviting a diverse range of guest speakers into private homes for evenings of discussion and dessert.
“We’ve been able to engage a whole cadre of people in their 40s and 50s, but it requires the investment of staff resources to keep it going. I believe AJC really sells itself. In this day and age, when there are so many problems in the world, AJC is in a really good position to address those issues. It’s a natural sell to many in the Jewish community, but we need to get word out. By getting a core group to open up their homes and invite their friends, we have had phenomenal success.”
AJC is also beginning a local program it calls “Diplomatic Outreach,” linking its members with foreign emissaries in New York. “We have just been assigned three countries — Greece, Panama, and Slovakia,” he said. “We are training our staff and volunteers to build relationships with them, discussing issues of importance to AJC and to them, and developing long-term relationships so that we can have an effect on their thinking. It is not just about Israel. It is about Jewish interests around the globe as well as the interests of non-Jews. We want to make these countries aware of our positions.”
Even after Gall leaves, Rosen said, he plans “to have Allyson’s phone number on my speed dial. I really value her advice.”
And what would that advice be?
“Take a deep breath, look at the bigger picture, and keep your perspective,” Gall told NJJN. “There are so many hours in the day and you can’t really finish the job.”