Rodney Glassman, Renaissance Man

Rodney Glassman, J.D., Ph.D., is a Renaissance man. His past and present titles include television show host, vice mayor for the City of Tucson, financial advisor, nominee for U.S. Senate, acting town manager of Cave Creek, attorney, children’s book author, vice president of the nation’s fifth largest Boy Scout Council and assistant staff judge advocate at the 355th Fighter Wing, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

He currently is of counsel at Beus Gilbert PLLC in Phoenix and serves as a Major in the United States Air Force JAG (Judge Advocate General) Corps Reserves where he acts as both a litigator and civil-law attorney alongside active duty JAG’s. This month, Rodney will be transferred from his duty station at Luke Air Force Base in the West Valley to a new assignment, just 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle, with the 354th Fighter Wing legal office at Eielson AFB, Fairbanks, AK. As a member of the Air Force Reserves, he spends five to ten weeks per year on military duty.

Major Glassman. Photo courtesy Karen Shell

Service to country

Rodney explains his path to becoming a JAG, “I happened to be home (in Fresno) visiting my parents, and we were getting ready to go to an ice hockey game with my then girlfriend Sasha (now his wife). A Hebrew school classmate of mine was visiting the house and shared that she had just left the Navy after failing the California Bar exam. I asked what did that have to do with her military service and she explained that she was a JAG. I said ‘What’s a JAG?’” That question sealed Rodney’s fate as his friend went on to explain the duties carried out by a military attorney. At that moment, Rodney had another goal!

Upon returning to Arizona, Rodney contacted the wing commander at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. He had been a long-time supporter of the base since he first arrived at the University of Arizona; he played on the Air Force ice hockey team, did legislative work for the base with a Southern Arizona Congressman, and was even invited to join the DM-50 (a business auxiliary group comprised of leaders that educate the community on the vital role that the base plays for the region and economy).

The wing commander put Rodney in touch with the head lawyer, the base Staff Judge Advocate, who shared entrance requirements to join.

“She said that I first had to pass the bar exam and then she asked how tall I was and how much I weighed,” explains Rodney. “I told her that I was 6 foot 6 inches and weighed 295 pounds. She replied, ‘because of our entrance requirements you have two choices, you can either grow four inches or lose 60 pounds.’ I chose the easier of the choices!” Rodney jokes.
He passed the bar exam on the first try, and then called his wife and shared, “I’m going to lose 60 pounds and join the Air Force – she laughed and hung up the phone.”

Six months later, Rodney had lost the weight and was sworn into the United States Air Force.

Rodney’s commitment to faith and tikkun olam is echoed in his military service, “Being a reservist is about giving back,” Rodney explains. His international travel with the Air Force has provided him with the opportunity to experience many of the great synagogues in Easter Europe and has intertwined his service and his faith.

One of these adventures occurred on a trip to Germany where Rodney was invited by the German Air Force to facilitate their International Junior Officer Leadership Development (IJOLD) course at Kaufbeuren Air Base. He had one day off before he was scheduled to start teaching, and being outside of Munich, he led a group of fellow officers to Dachau. He had never been to a concentration camp before. During the course, he learned that Kaufbeuren Air Base had been occupied by the Nazis and was seized by the U.S. Army in 1945. The base was the final location of the Nazi Party’s top secret FA signals intelligence and cryptanalytic agency.

The history of the base was especially powerful when he was asked, by the German Air Force leadership to provide the invocation at the course’s closing reception. “I had the opportunity to sing Shalom Rav on an active duty German Air Force base, which at one point was an American air base after being a Nazi Air Force base… it was so amazing,” says Rodney.

Connections to water run deep

Rodney, left, with his father Robert and brother Jeremy in Israel in 2017.

Rodney grew up in a farming family in the Central Valley of California with a strong commitment to faith and appreciation for the connection that water holds between Israel and the arid Southwest.

In the late 1980s, while Rodney was in grade school, he first traveled to Israel with his father Robert (who is also an attorney and holds a Ph.D.) to learn about developing water technologies in agriculture.

“Israel has always been at the forefront of developing and leveraging water technologies whether for high-intensity agriculture, re-use or desalinization,” says Rodney. “Through connectivity, tech-transfer and collaboration between our research institutions we have the opportunity to benefit from the entrepreneurial spirit that both Arizona and Israel share.”

Perhaps this early trip was what planted the seeds for Rodney’s educational path. “After earning my MBA and master of public administration from the University of Arizona I was working as a legislative aide for a congressman who represented the majority of the lower Colorado River, and I was serving on the Arizona State Farm Bureau Board of Directors,” he says. “Having grown up in a family where both my father and grandfather were farmers, earning my Ph.D. in Arid Land Resource Sciences from the College of Agriculture at the University of Arizona was a natural extension to the resource work I was already doing,” he explains.
Rodney ran for Tucson City Council while in law school and upon his election, championed first-in-the-nation policies for commercial rainwater harvesting and residential gray water plumbing.

Rodney is constantly leveraging his community relationships and passion for helping others to make deep community connections with policymakers and business people alike. Recently, he hosted a coffee at his office with Dr. Clive Lipchin, director of the Center for Transboundary Water Management at Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel. Rodney had been connected with Dr. Lipchin through his role as a board member of the Arizona Chapter of Jewish National Fund. Consistent with Rodney’s practice of connecting the dots, Rodney had invited some Arizona state legislators, and nearly a dozen was in attendance.

Arizona State Representative Becky Nutt, who represents Greenlee County and a large portion of rural Arizona, was at that meeting and as was so inspired by Dr. Lipchin’s presentation that she reached out and asked Rodney to help her put together a water symposium for the entire Arizona state legislature.

With Rodney’s support, Representative Nutt brought together speakers including leadership from Freeport-McMoRan, Inc., Poseidon Water (which recently built California’s largest desalination plant) and Dr. Lipchin. The event was held on the floor of the Arizona State House of Representatives, and more than two-thirds of the legislature were in attendance. “It was great exposure for Israel and Jewish National Fund,” states Rodney.

Rodney’s ability to combine his passion with community relationships allow him to get others focused on issues and causes he holds dear, one of which is Arizona’s water policy and water future. “With Arizona’s geographic location at the bottom of the Colorado River, Arizona will always need to be on the cutting edge of water conservation policy and practices,” says Rodney. He adds the state musts also stay “actively engaged in regional water discussions related to the entire Colorado River region and desalinization solutions along the California coast as a method for reducing their draw from the Colorado River.”

Recently, Rodney was able to return to Israel in December 2017 as part of a mission organized by the Jewish National Fund. Called “Israel H2O: A JNF USA Tour on the Trail of Israel’s Water Solutions,” the trip hosted water professionals, people from arid climates and those who simply have a love for Israel. Rodney’s father and brother Jeremy accompanied him on the trip. Jeremy is completing his Ph.D. in management from the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU (the same program that Robert graduated from in 1973).

“Having the opportunity to return to Israel and re-walk the steps that my father and I traveled together more than three decades ago was spectacular,” says Rodney. “To know that the commitment to faith and family that our parents instilled in us as children has germinated and inspired us to grow the family we have today, allows me to look forward to the day when we are able to take our daughters to Israel, as a family.”

Family and faith

Rodney with his wife, Sasha. Photo courtesy Adele Heslington

Rodney has had tremendous opportunities and life experience and has built a track record of giving back and contributing to the growth of others. “I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful Air Force career, an awesome professional career with outstanding clients, the ability to contribute to our community and most importantly – a spectacular family,” says Rodney. Rodney’s wife, Sasha, is also an attorney and recently completed her service as President of the Madison Elementary School District Governing Board in Phoenix. They have two young daughters, Rose and Ruth.

Rodney and Sasha have collaborated on a series of children’s book with sustainability themes. (AZJL featured them on the April 2013 cover.) The main character, Jeremy Jackrabbit, was inspired by Rodney’s brother Jeremy, who had a poster on his bedroom wall as a child that read, “Jeremy Jackrabbit Juggles Jumbo Jelly Beans.” The first book, Jeremy Jackrabbit Harvests the Rain, explains the importance of rainwater harvesting to the young reader. Since then, they have covered other topics: solar power, recycling and water conservation. The newest topic is public transportation. Their sixth book, Jeremy Jackrabbit Hops on Board, is due out this summer. To date, Sasha and Rodney have distributed more than 250,000 free books to children across Arizona.

Being connected and contributing to the Jewish community is very important to Rodney. He has heeded the words his father told him, “When you go to a new community, you always join a synagogue.” The family belongs to Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale, where their girls attend Sunday school. Rodney firmly believes that “the most important investment every member of the Jewish community can make is to join a synagogue … affiliation is key because if only those who plan to attend regularly join synagogues, we won’t have the resources, programs, facilities or leadership necessary to build a strong, vibrant Jewish community.”

In addition to serving on the board of the Jewish National Fund Arizona Chapter, Rodney and Sasha chaired the 2015 and 2016 JNF Annual Breakfasts, growing attendance from 400 people to more than 900 people in just two years. As chairs, the couple engaged influential keynote speakers including Dr. Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University and Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist and deputy editorial page editor.

Rodney and Sasha are members of the Grand Canyon Caucus, Arizona’s Pro-Israel Political Action Committee as well as supporters of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and AIPAC. Rodney is also a former board member of the Desert Caucus, Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the Tucson Jewish Community Center.

Two years ago, in order to begin instilling an even greater sense of Jewish identity for their daughters, the Glassman family decided to begin observing Shabbat every Friday night. “When you decide to stay home on Shabbat that is a big commitment. Every Friday we stay home, light the candles, say the hamotzi and have dinner around the table so we can visit and simply talk about our lives,” he explains. “It’s wonderful to play games, and for us, it resets the whole week.”

If anyone needs a little downtime at the end of the week, it is Rodney. His newest project is running for the Arizona Corporation Commission this August (Republican primary) and November (general election). The Arizona Corporation Commission is Arizona’s fourth branch of government and is the quasi-judicial regulatory body which oversees non-municipal public service corporations involving energy, water, telecommunications, pipelines and trains. It also oversees the incorporation of businesses, securities regulation and railroad/pipeline safety. Rodney has proposed adopting the Arizona Judicial Code of Conduct for the Corporation Commission in an effort to restore integrity and raise the bar regarding ethics for this important statewide elected office.

This year’s Arizona Corporation Commission race has added importance to Rodney because if elected, he will become Arizona’s only Jewish, statewide, elected official as well as Arizona’s only statewide, elected official to have served in the military (Arizona is home to more than 600,000 veterans). As he describes it, “Not only do I bring a unique set of private sector experiences and a background in water and natural resources, but through my service, I will have the opportunity to highlight important issues such as Arizona’s water future, engaging our community, and protecting the Jewish State of Israel – all while demonstrating the importance of faith in service.”

Luckily for us, Rodney Glassman, Renaissance man, is a part of our vibrant community.

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