A Conversation with President & CEO Renée Rockford

Jul 15, 2023 | Article

Renée Rockford was named JEWISHcolorado’s new President & CEO on July 1, 2023. We asked her to share some thoughts on the state of the organization—today and in the future.

Renée, you came to this position after first serving as JEWISHcolorado’s Chief Advancement Officer for a year and then as the Interim President and CEO since the last quarter of 2022. What about your experience as an interim leader led you to decide to take on the role officially?

Renee Rockford, President & CEODuring my time as an interim leader, I really grew to love this organization and its history. I so admire the staff who are dedicated to continuing the legacy of JEWISHcolorado. Working with the Board of Trustees, I have been struck by their passionate commitment. I have never seen a group of people who have put so much time, energy, and financial resources into an organization and the community. These experiences confirmed and validated for me that, at this point in my career, this was the work I wanted to do. This was my destination—serving the Jewish community.

What do you find most exciting—and what do you find most daunting—about this new position?

Right now, Jewish organizations are in a position where they must evaluate themselves. We are operating in a new paradigm of opportunities and challenges—and on top of that we are still reckoning with a new post-pandemic normal. It is a very interesting moment in the history of the Colorado Jewish community and all diaspora Jews, a moment when we must ask big questions. Where did we come from? Where are we going? How does our relationship with Israel fit into our thinking? I think there is only one answer to both your questions. Our challenges are both exciting and daunting!

Through fundraising, JEWISHcolorado supports its own programs as well as other programs that are important to sustaining a vibrant Jewish life and culture in Colorado. These days, everyone receives many requests for support. How does JEWISHcolorado rise to the top in this competitive fundraising atmosphere?

JEWISHcolorado is no longer just the fundraiser and allocator organization that many people think of when they think of the old Federation. We are so much more. We play a unique role as a convener, connector, investor, and protector for all organizations in our Jewish community including synagogues, nonprofits, community centers, and more. We are in partnership with the community so that when people give to JEWISHcolorado they are giving to the larger Jewish community and to its continuity here at home, in Israel, and around the world.

The future lies with a new generation of young people who have unique ways of communicating and socializing. How is JEWISHcolorado effectively connecting with young people?

It is very gratifying to see the number of young people who want to come to work at JEWISHcolorado. Through our staff, we connect with young people in the community in many ways—whether it is nearly sold-out Shabbat programs for young adults mounted by our Young Adult Division or the ways we support young families with children through PJ Library or the opportunities to grow and see the world with the Jewish Federations of North America Cabinet program. These are just some of the many ways we are working to ensure that new leaders are being developed, and JEWISHcolorado will continue from generation to generation.

JEWISHcolorado has made a commitment to the safety of the state’s citizenry through the Secure Community Network and, locally, with the Regional Safety & Security Initiative. It’s an ambitious task—seeking to protect both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations. Why is it important?

This may be the most important work we are doing, and it has become the face of JEWISHcolorado for the larger community. We launched this initiative after the Tree of Life shootings in 2018, and since then, we have created a baseline of security for all Colorado Jewish organizations, ensuring that safety is a priority. We are also a community protector, practicing pikuach nefesh, the preservation of life in the wider community by sharing our expertise. This work carries a huge responsibility. Part of what makes it challenging is that not everyone is aware that it is spearheaded and funded by JEWISHcolorado.

It is no secret that this has been a year of tumult in Israel. You traveled to Israel twice this spring on behalf of JEWISHcolorado with the Jewish Federations of North America. What was your take-away from the conversations you had on these trips?

We met with leadership representing diverse factions in Israel. I left Israel convinced that there will only be progress if conversations continue. Israel continues to be a partner with the Jewish diaspora and all that we mean to each other. It is important that, even during tumultuous times, we hold our relationship with Israel close to our heart.

JEWISHcolorado has existed for more than 75 years, for part of that time under the banner of the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado. There may be some in the Jewish community who were enthusiastic supporters during the Federation years but have not been as involved in recent years. How do you persuade those people to again invest their time and talents with JEWISHcolorado?

If you care about the Jewish community in Colorado, in Israel, in the world, this is not a time to step back. If you want this organization to fulfill its mission, it is the time to step up.