By Stacey Dresner
Stewart Bromberg recalls that when he was growing up, some kids quit going to synagogue after their bar and bat mitzvahs.
“I was not that kid,” he smiles. In fact, young Stew loved going to temple so much his parents arranged for a vice president of Temple Beth Abraham, his shul in Canton, Mass., to pick him up and take him to Shabbat services each Saturday morning.
But growing up in Canton – where he asserts there were not many other Jewish families at the time – Bromberg says he really began feeling comfortable with his Judaism after he began going to Camp Kingswood, a Jewish sleepaway camp in Kingston, Maine.
“I was in this environment with 200 other Jewish kids and that was when I learned that that we are all Jewish – things were slightly different in just about every family, but the way we felt and the way we behaved was what brought us together and kept us together. It was how I learned that other families were celebrating the same holidays I was celebrating,” he said.
Bromberg was a camper at Kingswood for three years and a counselor for two. He met his now ex-wife at the camp and both of their children went there. Bromberg even served as the chair of the camp’s 50th anniversary weekend reunion. He is a testament to the belief that Jewish camping is one of the best ways to keep youth involved in Judaism.
“Camp is probably what kept me going to synagogue after my bar mitzvah,” he stated.
Bromberg’s Jewish camping experience was so important to him that he even keeps a photograph of himself from when he was a camp counselor in his new office at the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts.
Bromberg is the new chief executive officer of the Federation, succeeding interim directors Robert Marmor and Sydney Perry. He began his tenure at the Federation last month.
He was hired after a six-month national search, said Jon Sapirstein, chair of the search committee.
“In the final analysis, I was very satisfied with the process and depth of due diligence that was applied by the entire committee,” Sapirstein said. “I know that I can now speak for everyone on the committee that we welcome Stewart to our community and each one of us is committed to ensuring Stewart’s success.”
Added Federation President Ronda Paris, “He is eminently qualified to lead the Federation forward to meet the needs of our greater Pioneer Valley community, including our constituent agencies and synagogues, as well as the needs of the Jewish, internationally and in Israel.”
This is a homecoming for Stew Bromberg.
For the past several years he served as executive director of Cedar Village Foundation, raising funds for the Jewish senior living community in Mason, Ohio. Before that he was vice president and chief development officer at the Jewish Community of Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky.
But his roots are in Massachusetts.
Bromberg attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, majoring in business administration and marketing. His first job out of college was selling insurance for Metropolitan Insurance. He later went into the newspaper business, working in circulation at the Boston Herald, then later as part of the launch team for USA Today when it started in the Boston market.
Twenty-eight years ago Bromberg left the private sector and began working in the Jewish communal world at the Leventhal-Sidman JCC in Newton.
“I figured, okay, I’ll go there for two years and set up their marketing department and make sure it’s running fine. But I was hooked,” he said. “I stayed for 10 years.”
“I was hired as the strategic marketing director. One of the first things I learned about – I’m assuming – all non-profit organizations, not just Jewish, is that if you make recommendations or suggestions, it becomes your responsibility. But that was okay with me,” he said.
By the end of his time at the Newton JCC he was in charge of membership, marketing, communications, public relations, community outreach and fundraising.
“I like to be busy,” he said.
One of his favorite jobs was working for Jewish Family & Life, founded by activist and entrepreneur Yossi Abramowitz. Bromberg became vice president of development of the organization in 2003.
“I loved that job because our mission was to spark an interest in Jewish identity and community,” he said. “When I went out to our donors and prospective donors I said, ‘We help people be Jewish in ways that are relevant to them because it is my personal opinion that in order for Judaism to survive, we have to show the Jewish people in our communities that what we are doing is relevant.’”
Bromberg raised millions of dollars to fund Jewish Family & Life’s websites and six print publications, including BabagaNewz, a publication focusing on Jewish values for children in grades 4 through 7.
“It was a great organization. We were doing things that no one else had ever done. I felt very proud of it,” he says. “The most exciting thing about BabagaNewz was that two weeks before it was delivered to the schools, the educators were getting curriculum showing them how to use the magazine in the classroom. And each month was a different Jewish value. The first project I actually funded for them was JVibe, a magazine for Jewish teens, to let them know that it was ok to be Jewish and cool to be Jewish.”
When Yossi sold the company and left for Israel, where he is now a solar power entrepreneur, Bromberg left too. “It was time,” he said.
He was offered a job with PANIM: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values in Washington, D.C.
“I lived all my life in Massachusetts and worked in Massachusetts,” he recalled. “I said, you know, if I am ever going to leave Massachusetts it is probably now or never.”
He became PANIM’s vice president for institutional advancement, talking to donors and prospective donors as well as board development. He later served as director of development at Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, Va. before becoming Capital Campaign director at The Lowell School in Louisville, a temporary position.
“In all of my experience working with Jewish organizatons, the one thing I had not done was work on capital campaign. I started thinking about how you make a capital campaign.” The first thing he did was ask to volunteer as a greeter during the school’s early morning drop-off.
“I wanted to get to the point where the kids, when they pulled up and I’m down [at the other end of the sidewalk] that they would say, ‘I’m not getting out now, I want to get out by Mr. Bromberg.’ That way I got to know the kids, I got to know the parents, and I got to build that relationship.
“And that truly is what I do best; I build relationships and bring people together.”
The school’s campaign was successful and Bromberg gained experience in running a campaign.
“I got the experience I felt I needed, how to start and operate and run a campaign – how to figure out what you need during the silent phase of the campaign, and when do you announce the campaign.”
From there he got a call from a recruiter about a position as vice president and chief development officer at the Jewish Community Louisville, that city’s Federation.
He got his first dose of Southern hospitality when he went there for his interview.
“We lived in Rockville, Maryland for six-and-a-half years, and we never purchased a home there because I hated it. When I walked down the street in Rockville with all of that concrete and I would say hi to somebody, they would look down and never look at me in the face.
“I was in Louisville for a week of interviews and I was staying with a friend of ours. We were walking down the street one day and this young guy in his late 20s or early 30s was coming towards us. As he got closer he said, ‘Howdy, how are you all doing today?’ and I smiled and I nodded and kept walking. He stopped and turned around and said, ‘I don’t know if you heard me but I said, Howdy, how are you all doing today?’
“I’m thinking, wow, this person wants to engage me. This is awesome. This is a place where I could probably live. And so I turned around and talked to him for while. Certainly one of the reasons why I chose to go there.”
He also saw that the non-Jewish community there was very respectful of the local Jewish community.
“What they saw was that the Jewish community created jobs in the community and attracted Jewish families…that’s why today I truly believe that a strong Jewish community makes for a stronger, greater community.”
Soon he was recruited by Cedar Village, a Jewish retirement community in the Cincinnati area.
“Cincinnati seemed right,” he said. “It’s only 96 miles north of Louisville, but it felt like it was 500 miles from Louisville, just more Northern.”
He enjoyed working at Cedar Village, especially interacting with seniors.
“I loved working with seniors. I loved being around them,” he said of the residents, 86 percent of whom had some degree of dementia. He would often greet and talk with residents who some days would not remember him from the day before.
“But in the five minutes that I would converse with them, they would smile and be happy, and that would make my day.”
He says that all of the positions listed on his resume make him the well-rounded individual he is today.
“I had a mentor in my twenties who said, ‘Always investigate opportunities that present themselves or you may forever wonder if it was the one you should have taken.’ Maybe I listened too well. It has always worked out well for me because I have learned and developed new skills and new strengths throughout the years.”
He says he will use those skills and strengths to put the Federation’s annual campaign “back on track” and to be able to “fund programs and agencies in this community that will benefit the whole community.”
He will be followed shortly by his husband, John Winslow, a special needs, behavioral needs and autism specialist and educational liaison to 16 school districts in Kentucky.
“I am so happy to be here. This is a position I have worked towards for a long time,” Bromberg said. “I care about Judaism, I care about community, and I care about making the community relevant for everybody.”