Some of you might identify with Adam Greenman’s road to the Alliance. Unaffiliated and living in Pawtucket, he wasn’t particularly connected with the Jewish community in Rhode Island. But as a participant in the Alliance and Community Relations Council-sponsored mission to Israel for Rhode Island leaders in November 2015, he realized he missed the connection he had growing up in what he describes as a conservative/orthodox family in Philadelphia.
Now, as the new president and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, Greenman wants to make sure that everyone knows about the organization and its work, and that they are welcome at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, in Providence.
He says he hopes “if they haven’t been here in awhile, that they’ll stop by.”
Greenman, 35, who started work Aug. 1, is passionate about his new favorite cause – growing the number of Jews who feel more connected to and become more active in the Jewish community.
Two weeks into his tenure, he sat down with The Voice for a conversation about his expectations, goals and where he’s come from.
Greenman says his role at the Alliance is a dream job because it allows him to connect in a professional way to an identity that’s become more relevant to him since the mission to Israel.
“Personal and professional interests aligned to put me here. I’m fortunate. Not everyone gets that opportunity,” he says.
Greenman previously worked in secular nonprofits, including as executive vice president at United Way of Rhode Island. He and his wife, Erin Dube, moved to Rhode Island from Camden, New Jersey, eight years ago. Both were teachers there. They met while employed by Teach for America.
Dube is on the Pawtucket School Committee. Daughters Alexandria, 8, and Norah, 5, attend the Potter Burns Elementary School.
Greenman says his children are his most important accomplishment to date. “Family is everything,” he said, adding, “The welcome we’ve gotten here as a family is amazing.”
Starting at the end of eighth grade and through high school, Greenman worked at Greenman’s Deli, his grandparents’ Jewish deli in Philadelphia, a job he said that taught him a lot about getting along with people.
He attended George Washington University and found an on-campus Jewish student group there not as welcoming as he’d expected. He just didn’t feel Jewish enough, he says, and that’s when he began to separate from the Jewish community.
Greenman had little connection to his Jewishness while earning a master’s degree in public administration from Rutgers University and an Ed.D. in educational leadership from Northeastern University.
But since his trip to Israel, Greenman said he is excited and energized to reconnect with his heritage – and he’s already had some experiences that demonstrate that the Alliance and the JCC are the kind of welcoming community he wished he had found at college.
Alexandria went to J-Camp during Greenman’s first week in his new job and, he says, came home every day with a big smile on her face. “There’s no better endorsement for our programming,” he says.
Greenman says his first order of business is to get out and meet people in the community.
“It’s a priority to me to hear from folks,” he says. “I’m going to get out to the synagogues and the community. I’m going to meet as many people as I can.” And that includes people who may not be connected to the community, but should be, he stresses.
The Pawtucket resident acknowledges that not living on the East Side, near the Alliance offices at the Dwares JCC, is a reminder that the Alliance serves the Jewish community all over the state.
“We have a beautifully renovated building [the Dwares JCC]. You couldn’t ask for more as a new CEO. But it’s incumbent on us to get out and about.
“People have to get in their cars to come to 401 Elmgrove, so let’s get in our cars and go see them.”
He’s also looking at ways to advance the organization.
“We need to be more inclusive,” he says. “We need to be open to everyone in the community, regardless of how they celebrate their faith or connect with their Jewish identity.”
And he said we should examine how the Jewish community connects to the greater Rhode Island community, how we demonstrate basic values like tikkun olam. “It’s important to understand our role.”
In the coming months, Greenman plans to create a strategic plan for the Alliance that builds on the past, includes the Alliance’s purpose now, and sets goals. And he’ll make sure that there’s input from all corners of the community.
“I’m passionate and dedicated to the work I do,” Greenman says. “I really care about the future of the Jewish community.”
FRAN OSTENDORF (email@example.com) is the editor of The Jewish Voice.