Phoenix JCRC praised for uniting diverse communities on security

Last month, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix (JCRC) Paul Rockower was awarded the prestigious FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award (DCLA) for his service to the Jewish community and, in particular, his building alliances across faith and ethnic communities in the fight against extremism. According to the FBI, the award was established in 1990 “to publicly acknowledge achievements of people working to make a difference in their communities through the promotion of education and the prevention of crime and violence.”

As the head of the independent JCRC of Greater Phoenix, Rockower oversees the organization's work to safeguard the Jewish community. Through this work, he has built important relationships with law enforcement and has also strengthened the security of other vulnerable populations in Phoenix that have leaned on the Jewish community for support and expertise. This includes expert guidance in crisis communications and strategy for working effectively with the police and FBI.

A main feature of this work is the monitoring of extremist threats throughout Arizona and providing early warnings both within and outside the Jewish community.  This includes partnering with Muslim, LGBTQ, African American, Latino, and progressive Christian communities. “The community relations around crisis management has been very valuable in strengthening ties with other faith and ethnic groups,” he explained.

The FBI recognition came six months after Rockower was honored for his work to protect the LGBTQ community against hate and extremism by ONE Community, a coalition of businesses, organizations and individuals who recognize local leaders who advance diversity, equity and inclusion for all Arizonans.  Through its monitoring efforts the JCRC  thwarted potentially dangerous incidents that could affect LGBTQ individuals and businesses.

Through security cooperation, the communities have engaged in dialogue around broader issues as well that have led to mutual understanding.  After October 7, a coalition of LGBTQ groups and allies launched an online petition to condemn the horrific terrorist attacks.  The coalition expressed its unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and its conviction that the State of Israel has a right to exist.  It also acknowledged the violent extremism that both LGBTQ Americans and Israelis have faced.

“The continued strengthening of ties and partnerships helps create space where partners are more willing to hold those complicated relationships and to have dialogue,” Rockower said.

Last year, in partnership with the Arizona Faith Network, the JCRC spearheaded the passage of the Arizona State Nonprofit Security grant program to deliver $5 million dollars in security funding to vulnerable houses of worship across Arizona.

Last month, the JCRC hosted a Latino-Jewish Passover seder for nearly 100 people, including representatives from the Valle Del Sol's Hispanic Leadership Institute. At each table, members of the Jewish community shared family traditions with participants from the Latino community, including many who knew little about the ritual. At the event, discussion topics covered Passover’s ancient story of freedom, as well as modern-day antisemitism and racism.

These connections were not built overnight.  Rockower has worked closely with the Department of Justice's United Against Hate initiatives to help the Latino community and other vulnerable communities identify partners to combat extremism.

“It’s the power of our experiences fighting antisemitism to be able to strengthen the community as a whole so that nobody is experiencing extremism on their own,” he said. “We see this as our ability to be a light unto the nations.”

Board Chair of the JCRC of Greater Phoenix Alan Zeichick added, “Paul's strategic outreach to faith-based groups, and to other vulnerable communities here in Arizona, has shown those communities that the Jewish community stands with them - and they, in turn, often stand with us. In these troubled times, we all need allies and open lines of communication. We're delighted by the FBI's recognition of Paul's work in the security space, and his tireless commitment to keeping everyone safe.”