Jacobs was officially announced as the agency’s new CEO this week, replacing longtime CEO Eli Skora, who is retiring after 17 years with the agency. Jacobs starts the new job on July 31.
“The work I was doing, I believe in it, but it’s not the work that’s going to deal with long-term issues that will be a problem with our broader Jewish community,” Jacobs said. “Forty years ago, we were together because we weren’t accepted by others. Now, everyone has an option and it’s wonderful. The Jewish aspect has to be attractive on its own. It doesn’t get a default attendance. It has to change within the Jewish organizations and we have to make our communities an attractive option.”
Most recently, he was based in Seattle as the northwestern regional director of StandWithUs, an educational and advocacy organization for Israel. As the first regional director for the Pacific Northwest, he built a successful self-funded operation and dramatically increased financial support. Previously, he was the regional director for the Anti-Defamation League in the Pacific Northwest. During his tenure, he designed and implemented a strategic plan to increase community engagement and financial support.
Jacobs has spent most of his time on the coasts – he grew up in Portland, Ore., and spent 17 years on the East Coast – but isn’t unfamiliar with the Twin Cities; his brother-in-law is Rabbi Alexander Davis of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park. He called the interviews among the easiest and most enjoyable he’s had.
“I look forward to sitting with everyone and hearing about the community and getting a sense of the issues and priorities,” he said. “They’ve done great strategic planning. It has been some incredible work they put together, but there are limited resources. We have to use them effectively.”
Prior to his career in Jewish service, Rob held a number of leadership positions including head of the Intellectual Property Portfolio at Amazon.com in Seattle. He also served in Washington, D.C., working as legislative director for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation for then chairman Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), and for Rep. Leon Panetta (D-Calif.) as a U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee counsel.
“We sought a candidate who has a vision for how Federation can be relevant and innovative in order to address the challenges and opportunities our community faces,” said Steve Brand, Federation president. “Rob’s track record is one of bringing diverse groups together for the common good and dramatically increasing community engagement, involvement, and financial support for the organizations he has led.”
Skora will remain on the job for a limited time to help Jacobs transition to the new role.
“I’m looking forward to working with him,” Jacobs said. “After 17 years of history, he has so much knowledge and knows the community so well. It’ll be a steep learning curve, but I’m looking forward to sitting down and understanding the personalities of the community. Eli will be a tremendous help with that.”