Cultivating a Sense of Jewish Community Through Communications with Niv Elis

Niv Elis. Photo Courtesy.

Niv Elis wasn’t always aware of the impact and influence of the Jewish Federations of North America, but after studying international relations and working in media for over a decade, he now works at JFNA on behalf of the Jewish community, serving as the organization’s associate vice president of external communications.

In this key communications role, Elis is intimately involved with JFNA’s public relations, press, social media and digital strategy efforts to promote stories and other items of interest to the greater Jewish community and get these important stories heard.

“The fun part of it [my job] is that we get to see what everybody is doing and weave that together into narratives, we get to pull up stories, impact stories that people might not really be aware of or might not think are worthwhile … we might develop pitches for reporters and let them know there’s this interesting thing going on that you might be interested in covering,” Elis said.

Elis took a winding path before settling into his current role in communications, beginning with a gap year he took in Israel before college during the Second Intifada, which he said was a highly formative experience in his interest in studying the Middle East in college and eventually working in Washington, D.C., on issues relating to the Middle East and studying international affairs in graduate school.

In his first role, Elis spent a significant amount of time working with news items and news wires, and after an internship with Forbes Magazine he realized that he had a strong passion for journalism and news.

“I just realized … this is the most fun I’ve ever had at work. I liked everything about it. I thought it was relevant, it was exciting. And so, I embarked on a career in journalism and suddenly all of that experience of seeing how the news was made and came out over the wires and how five different publications covered the same story differently turned out to be really helpful,” Elis said.

Eventually, Elis made his way back to Israel, working as a web editor for The Jerusalem Post, and he said the skills he learned through his international affairs studies and the economic focus that it had were beneficial in his coverage.

“When I was in Israel, there were elections. When I arrived in Israel, there were giant social protests happening in the streets over the price of cottage cheese and the cost of housing and those are economic stories. When the politicians were running to tell everyone how they’re going to fix it, those were economic stories,” Elis said.

That experience continued to help Elis when he moved back to Washington, D.C., and took a position as a congressional reporter for The Hill.

“I had all these experiences that stood on their own. But looking back through this lens [of time], I see through lines of journalism, communications, the Jewish piece, the Israel piece, all of those things. I’ve been there in one way or another in most of my work,” Elis said.

Elis now uses all his experiences to help further connections between members of the Jewish community, which is something he said is important to him.

He noted that his upbringing in Pittsburgh going to Jewish day schools and living in close proximity to the Tree of Life Synagogue are central parts of his identity and that it’s great to be able to help cultivate a great Jewish community in the United States.

“I think that working for a place that helps cultivate that [sense of identity and community] in others is important. I also just love the idea that Judaism is a team sport – community is built into Jewish life,” Elis said.

Elis said that his job at JFNA is especially important today in a world where people are online more than ever in a digital age with reduced face-to-face interactions. He said that getting people to come together is a major part of the JFNA’s objective and that they’re at the forefront of finding ways to realize that mission in a rapidly evolving space.

“The things that sort of used to bring people together, to pull them together and create the sense of community, are changing at dramatic paces. And knowing that there’s an organization that’s really pushing to keep that Jewish community not just intact, but flourishing, is really gratifying. I know how important it is to me and I know how important it is for so many others,” Elis said.

Elis said that an additional aspect to his work as a Jewish professional is how connected he is to all the issues he and the community face. He said that his personal and professional lives often intertwine and that having the support system of the community is a huge plus as he goes about his work during these challenging times.

“It [events happening in the Jewish community] is very, very personal. And that can be difficult because it feels like it’s your work and it’s your personal life and it’s sort of everything. But at the same time, it’s also extraordinarily gratifying, and it makes it meaningful,” Elis said.

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