STAMFORD – Veteran Jewish professional Rob Zwang has just begun his tenure as interim director of United Jewish Federation of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien. Zwang was selected from four finalists and will serve in the position for six months, replacing Marty Greenberg, who left at the end of 2011 to work with Jewish Federations of North America.
Zwang was executive director of The Federation-Jewish Communities of Western Connecticut for nearly 20 years before ending his tenure in June 2011. A Danbury native, Zwang came to Jewish communal work accidentally. After earning a master’s degree in counseling psychology, he worked as a therapist in Florida when he saw a newspaper ad for a job with B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO). He served as the assistant director of North Florida BBYO, then moved to Richmond, Va. to head BBYO of Virginia and North Carolina. Soon, he was offered a year-long position as assistant director of the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, a stint that lasted four years.
Zwang was hired by the Jewish Federation in Waterbury in 1992. Like many American Jewish communities at the time, Waterbury was in transition: the population was aging, younger families were moving to outlying suburbs, and there was no influx of new arrivals. Zwang’s first task as executive director was to lead a strategic planning process, along with then-board chair Jerry Sugar and consultant Larry Smith. The resulting move a decade later to the new Walzer Family Jewish Community Campus in Southbury would redefine the local Jewish community.
Zwang served as adviser when the Jewish community of Eastern Fairfield County began its own “futuring” process three years ago, which resulted in the grassroots Thriving Jewish Community Initiative.
Now Zwang will lead the greater Stamford Jewish community through what UJF board president Nancy Mimoun calls “a period of discovery.” “We are asking, ‘Who do we want to be when we ‘grow up?’” she says. “How does UJF best collaborate with other Jewish agencies and organizations? This is something the community has to decide, not only Federation. I am excited to be working with Rob. His experience and expertise will help us create a stronger Jewish community. His leadership will foster enthusiasm and a renewed sense of purpose for the new year.” One outcome of the process will be a blueprint for the type of executive director UJF will seek, Mimoun says.
Just as particular societal trends shaped the discussion and direction of the Waterbury Jewish community 20 years ago, Zwang notes that the greater Stamford community will be guided by its own unique set of factors. “What’s happening in the Jewish community, in a general sense, is that there are all these pressures that create motivation and opportunity,” he says. “There are so many changes – in philanthropic giving, in the ways in which each of us defines attachment to personal Judaism, in the economy. As a people, we have achieved what we set out to do decades ago: reviving Jewish life after the Holocaust, establishing the State of Israel, bringing together the world Jewish community. In this country, we have integrated successfully into society. Now that we have reached the ‘pinnacle,’ what’s next? There’s no ‘Moses’ to lead us, no one person. Now the ‘Moses’ is the community and the voices of the people. And in this discovery process, we’ll be listening to those voices.”