Ellen Gettinger returned to her native Pittsburgh with a bold, new mission: developing and nurturing the latest generation of leaders.
Raised in Mt. Lebanon and a graduate of SUNY-Binghamton University, Gettinger has extensive experience with cultivating lay leadership. She strives to understand organizations’ cultures and builds people to thrive within and beyond those borders.
Until recently, though, most of that work took place on a broader, national level.
Gettinger has an impressive resume, having worked for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the JCC Association of North America, the umbrella organization for Jewish community centers.
She began in December at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh as the director of the Buncher Institute for Leadership Development, or BuILD. Since then, she’s become laser-focused on working within a community, not above it.
“BuILD is really a lay leadership development institute … for all the [Jewish] nonprofits of Pittsburgh,” Gettinger said.
“At national organizations, you have a big reach, but it’s tough to see the impact of your work and be integrated into a community,” she continued. “At the Federation, because my role is so externally focused … I get to embed myself in the Pittsburgh community, which has been really special.”
A lot of her work includes meeting with the stakeholders.
“Right now, I’m doing a listening tour,” she said.
The pieces are fitting together nicely. As the Federation launched BuILD — whose director position is endowed by the Buncher Family Foundation — Federation President and CEO Jeff Finkelstein said he “wanted someone with not only an extensive experience in leadership training but also a particular expertise in culture and employee engagement.”
“Ellen has done exactly this work for three great, national Jewish organizations, so I anticipate that she will really raise the bar on leadership training for Jewish Pittsburgh,” Finkelstein said.
Gettinger is getting acclimated again to the Pittsburgh experience she used to know. After college, she moved to New York City, where she lived for several years. During the pandemic — as she was working remotely for Hillel International as its associate director of people and culture— she and her family boomeranged and relocated to Pittsburgh’s North Hills.
The job at the Federation soon followed.
She loves her new space — compared to NYC’s cramped city apartment — and explores it with her husband, Jonathan, a data analyst, and their son Max, age 3.
“One thing that’s been a nice change from New York is we’ve been doing outdoorsy stuff, biking and hiking — we love going to North Park,” Gettinger said.
“I had a Pittsburgh salad again recently, and that was a nice throwback,” she added with a laugh. “And it was so fun to see how amazed (Max) was by the inclines — it warms my heart to get to see him doing things I grew up doing.”
Gettinger also is connecting with figures from her past. A former member of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, she’s met with Rabbi Alex Greenbaum — though, now, as peers looking to build relationships in the community.
“It just feels really nice being back,” Gettinger said. “This job had made me feel sort of more like I live in Pittsburgh, even more than when I first moved back and was working remotely.”
“I think I always wanted to get back to Pittsburgh.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.