Michael Gribov has only been at his development director post at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia for a month, but he brings with him a vast amount of experience. The 34-year-old Russia native earned bachelor’s degrees in finance and international business from Miami University of Ohio and in economics from the University of Cambridge – he also holds a master’s in foreign service and foreign policy from Georgetown University.
Gribov and his wife, who live with their 2-year-old daughter in Crystal City, made aliyah in 2009 and lived there for four years before they moved back to the D.C. area, where Gribov initially worked as a consultant in strategy and development for a number of D.C. nonprofits. Gribov spoke to WJW about the ways he looks to develop the JCC, moving from Russia to Ohio and the dress code he wish he could meet.
What does your new position of development director entail?
There are two parts. One is the resource development piece, looking at our potential partners and bringing in financial resources from foundations, individual philanthropy and other sources. The other part is more strategic, looking at how we want to grow as an organization in the community throughout Northern Virginia.
Why did the position interest you?
I’m very committed to my Jewish engagement and peoplehood. This was an opportunity to work really closely with the Jewish community in Northern Virginia. Jeff Dannick, the executive director, and I really connected because I saw in him a vision for Jewish engagement that few other leaders have. We have a great team and a good plan moving forward, so that really attracted me. And the opportunity to work in a strategic level was also really interesting.
What ways do you hope to see the JCC grow?
We’re looking at a number of things. Post-Pew research, looking at the needs of the Jewish community across Northern Virginia. One thing that’s apparent is that people across the Jewish community are not as engaged in Judaism as they were before, especially the millennials. As a Jewish community center representing Northern Virginia, we want to help people connect with our tradition, our roots. To do that, we’re looking to partner with organizations throughout Northern Virginia to help bring more people to the table and increase Jewish engagement and involvement.
What was it like to grow up in Russia?
I was born in Russia in Leningrad [now Saint Petersburg], which is considered the cultural capital of Eastern Europe. When the borders opened up and Jews were able to leave, we moved to Akron, Ohio. A huge transition from the Eastern capital of culture to the Midwest. I didn’t have much of a Jewish background growing up in Russia because communism killed everything off, as it does. Coming here, my first interaction was at a Jewish day school, and I started exploring more and more after that. I went to get my B.A. at the Miami University of Ohio. That’s when the opportunity came up to go on Birthright.
Going on that trip I didn’t expect much. When we came to the Western Wall and the sun was rising over the wall, something clicked inside and it made me realize that this was really a different place. Something else was going on that was unexplainable in words. That’s when I knew I had to come back somehow. A short while after when I returned to the States, I found an opportunity to go back to Israel through a Jewish agency program that connected people to different industries. I ended up in the Knesset. I came to direct a parliamentary forum that facilitated dialogue between Israel and the international community and helped galvanize support for Israel.
That’s also the time when I met my future wife, Raquela. We started dating and I wanted to come back to the States to finish my studies. I told her, “You’ve gotta come with me.” Subsequently, I worked for the State Department and was doing policy analysis there, until we realized that we needed to go back to Israel. I made aliyah and became a dual citizen. I got married there, and we were planning to stay until we realized 4,000 miles between our families wasn’t working for us.
Have you been back to Russia since you emigrated?
I’ve been to Russia twice since [we emigrated], and it is a completely different place. It’s a country with a lot of tremendous challenges when you have a national transition of that size.
Your wife works in the fashion industry. Does she hold you to a certain dress code standard?
[Laughs]. I think she holds me to a certain standard of dress code that I wish I could meet. That is a high standard indeed. She’s got a tremendous eye for style. I can only hope to meet those goals. I try to reflect good taste in my choice of clothing.