Becky Ruby Swansburg has been named chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council and is the recipient of the 2014 Julie E. Linker Community Relations Young Leadership Award, which will be presented at the Jewish Community of Louisville’s Annual Meeting, Sunday, June 1, 10:30 a.m. at the Jewish Community Center.
For Swansburg, community relations work is her passion and she is eager to take on the responsibilities of the JCRC and very excited about receiving the Linker Award. “It is such an honor,” she said,” it came as a big surprise. Louisville is very lucky that we’ve had so many visionary leaders who have set up opportunities for young people and the next generation of leaders. I’m very appreciative of it.”
Last year, she was chosen as one of 10 next generation JCRC leaders to participate in the year-long Frank Family Leadership Institute. The program gave her the opportunity to travel to Poland and Israel last fall and to attend the Jewish Council for Public Affairs Plenum in March.
“It was a great opportunity to dig deeply into the issues and to get to know some of the CRC leaders from across the country,” Swansburg said.
As a result of her experiences and her own dedication and hard work, Swansburg was asked to serve as vice chair of JCPA’s Resolutions Committee for next year’s Plenum and as a member of their board.
Here in Louisville, when JCRC Chair Bob Sachs chose not to continue to serve in that position, Swansburg agreed to step up and take the helm. She views both her national and local positions as great opportunities.
“My background is with legislative and policy issues,” she said, so JCPA’s Resolutions Committee “is a pretty exciting place for me to land.
“One of the issues I’m proud that the Louisville JCRC has continued to push is support for gay marriage,” she continued, “and JCPA, for a variety of reasons, has not yet taken a stance on it.” It is something she wants to continue to push on the national level.
“It will be very interesting to see what kinds of resolutions come up on Israel and social justice issues,” she continued, “and with elections coming up this year, there may be some that haven’t come to the fore before that will need to be addressed.”
Louisville has a strong tradition of leadership with JCPA. Both Lewis D. Cole, z”l, and Marie Abrams chaired the national organization and Ron Abrams served as treasurer. “JCPA has a tremendous respect for Louisville,” Swansburg said, and its leaders still talk about both past chair from our community. “Part of what I want my service to be,” she said, is to ensure that “the next generation of leaders and thinkers are coming out of Louisville.
She looks to Marie Abrams as her mentor and is appreciative of the guidance she receives.
Looking at Louisville’s JCRC, Swansburg observed, “the group has a lot of expertise around Israel advocacy and social justice issues that are broader than the Jewish community. It has also done a good job with interfaith relations.”
One area where she would like to focus additional attention is government relations – interacting with elected officials. “Our JCRC does a great job advocating for a lot of pressing issues that affect the Jewish community and are aligned with our Jewish values. We often finding ourselves reaching out to officials on these issues.
“One of my goals,” she explained, “is to reach out to them proactively, to let them know about our issues, so we already have rapport with our elected leaders and relations to draw on.”
About a year and a half ago, she recalled, the JCRC “had a good meeting with Sen. Rand Paul. I want to continue this on the local and state level.”
JCRC’s work often consists of building on the work of previous leaders. Swansburg looks to build on her predecessors’ work to “establish the JCRC as the public face of the Jewish community to other faith groups, the school system and the community-at-large.”
She sees it as a place “where all parts of the Jewish community come together and speak with one voice. The JCRC is a consensus organization … not that we all agree on every issue, but that we agree to be a consensus organization.”
Another area Swansburg would like to address is the composition of the JCRC itself. “We have exceptional people on the JCRC right now,” she said, but the JCRC also “is a very natural place for a lot of community members under age 50 to get engaged on issues they care about. It is a place where you can really have an impact.” She is eager to begin recruiting the “next generation of JCRC leaders and members.”
Serving as JCRC chair is “a huge honor,” she continued. I grew up in a family where my parents were always involved with leading Jewish organizations in town – the JCC, The Temple, NCJW – and I remember being proud of them. It is important and meaningful to me to get to follow in their footsteps and do the same thing.”
Swansburg is a Louisville native who “was very active in the Jewish community, BBYO and NFTY,” even serving as a NFTY regional officer as a teen. “When I went to college,” she continued, “I was president of Hillel and was a founder and co-president of Interfaith Council at Middlebury College.
“When I moved to Washington, DC, to start my career,” she lamented, “I fell out of touch with the Jewish community.” She missed that involvement, “so when my husband and I moved back to Louisville in 2006, one of the things I wanted to do was get re-engaged.”
“Louisville has such an accessible Jewish community,” she noted, “so it’s been very exciting for me … to get reintroduced to the Jewish community I left when I was 18.” Swansburg previously served on The Temple’s Board of Directors and worked with its youth group. She currently co-chairs the popular PJ Library program and is active in YAD.
Swansburg is the chief marketing officer at Stonewood Financial Solutions, a local financial services firm. In addition to her activities in the Jewish community, she serves on the boards of the local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners and the Rauch Planetarium at the University of Louisville.
She earned her B.S. in political science from Middlebury College and her M.A. in communications from Boston University. Following her graduation, she worked for a U.S. congressman and briefly at the White House before returning to Louisville with her husband. She worked for Greater Louisville Inc. before taking her current position.
In the past, she served on the Board of Directors for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Executives and as a Teach Kentucky mentor. She was also named to Business First’s prestigious ‘Forty Under 40’ list.
On the personal side, she is a member of Le Leche League, which supports breastfeeding women, and the Louisville Mothers of Twins Club.
Julie E. Linker was a young leader in the Louisville Jewish community with a passion for community relations work. When she died, the Julie E. Linker Community Relations Young Leadership Award was established to perpetuate her name and to encourage young people who share her passion and give them the opportunity to attend the JCPA Plenum.