Last month, Howard County native Jackie Congedo was named director of the Cincinnati Jewish Community Relations Council, the city’s equivalent of the Baltimore Jewish Council.
The council is an arm of the local Jewish Federation.
“I feel really humbled and lucky to have been offered this opportunity during this pivotal time,” Congedo, 31, said.
Congedo grew up in western Howard County, attending Glenelg High School and graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park with a degree in journalism. She spent the next decade in broadcast journalism in Washington, D.C., Lexington, Ky., and Cincinnati before becoming the head of public relations for the Federation. She grew up in a Catholic-Jewish (father and mother, respectively) household that celebrated both traditions. She embraced the Jewish one a little later in life.
It was this background in communications and community bridge-building that made her the perfect choice, said Shep Englander, CEO of the Federation.
“We were somewhat surprised ourselves when it became clear to us that Jackie was going to be the best fit for the job,” he said, adding that the organization did a national search and the search committee eventually voted unanimously for Congedo.
The Cincinnati JCRC was formed in the 1930s by a group of local Jewish leaders in response to a rising tide of anti-Semitism. In fact, the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati is the oldest continually running federation, celebrating 121 years next month. Today, the Jewish community in the city is very diverse, Congedo said, with 12 congregations that range from Humanistic to Orthodox and serve 27,000 Jews.
Previous JCRC director Sarah Weiss was also serving as executive director of the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education in Cincinnati and left to concentrate on that role, with the organization expanding and moving into a new facility. However, she is confident in the ability of Congedo to take the council to the next level.
“She is just a stellar professional,” Weiss said, “and wholeheartedly passionate about the Jewish community and furthering the connections with the broader community.”
All those involved believe Congedo will bring strategic communication, community outreach and transparency to her new role. In a time where issues can get especially contentious, it is important for the council to be transparent in how it makes decisions and how it works, Weiss said.
Congedo herself said she hopes to do just that. The JCRC is an incredible resource, she added, and she wants the community to feel they are reflected within the organization. To do that, her first on-the-job step is to pay attention to what the community is saying.
“There’s so much history and so much context [for the Cincinnati Jewish community] that I think listening is my first priority,” she said.
The community is “strong for its size,” she went on to say, and it “feels like part of the family.”
Both Englander and Weiss are convinced that she will put that love for the community into working for the betterment of those in it.
“I think she’s the right person at the right time for the role,” Weiss said.