Cole Award Goes to Benabou and Kaplan to Geller

The Jewish Community of Louisville announced the recipients of its 2013 Young Leadership Awards to be presented at its Annual Meeting, Sunday, June 1, at 10 a.m. at the Jewish Community Center.

Keren Benabou will receive the Lewis W. Cole Memorial Young Leadership Award; Tracy Geller will receive the Joseph J. Kaplan Young Leadership Award; and Becky Ruby Swansburg, the Julie E. Linker Community Relations Young Leadership Award.

Lewis W. Cole Young Leadership Award – Keren Benabou

The old adage “ask and you shall receive” holds true for Keren Benabou, at least as far as getting her to participate in community endeavors.

“In the community, my involvement is whereever I have been asked,” she said.

She’s a member of the Ben Gurion Society, has been part of the YAD community in the last two years and is the chair this year. She co-chaired the YAD annual event for the last two years, volunteered at Super Sunday and is active in the JCC Preschool’s Parents Committee.

“What makes me be involved … it’s simple … I am a proud Jew! The community is important to me! I want my kids to grow in a great community with a strong connection to Israel and the Jewish culture,” she said.

Benabou, a realtor with RE/MAX Properties East, moved to Louisville seven years ago from Israel. She came to the U.S. to travel while on break from the Israeli Military, where she served for more than six years, reaching the rank of captain. She met her husband, Yariv Benabou, in Columbus, OH, and moved here so they could raise a family together. They now have two daughters Lia, 4, and Shylee, 2.

Benabou said leadership was something instilled in her as a youth, growing up in the Ben Shemen Youth Village, an agricultural boarding school in central Israel. “There they implement independence, hard work, leadership,” she said.

Military service also contributed to her sense of leadership.

“The responsibility, decision making and the soldiers I was commanding shaped the person I am today,” she said. “A leader has to be passionate, they have to love what they do, they have to be able to make decision and follow up.”

The news that she’d received the award reached Benabou while she was in Ashdod, Israel. Her father died when he was in the military after 28 years of service. Every year she combines her motherland visit with the Israel Memorial Day to commemorate his life.

“I am honored, I never thought of getting an award – I didn’t know there were any to be given. I do what I do because I want to, because I care and will keep doing it. I never do anything to get something out of it,” she said.

Joseph J. Kaplan Young Leadership Award – Tracy Geller

Tracy Geller is a familiar face in the Jewish community, and lately has taken on a number of leadership roles. She’s on the JCL Programming Committee, the YAD Committee, and she co-chaired this year’s Shabbat Dinner and the YAD Campaign Casino events with Keren Benabou. She’s also on the Board and Executive Board of Adath Jeshurun Synagogue and active in the preschool there.

While that would be a lot for anyone, Geller manages it all along with her job as an attorney and partner at her own GSH Law Firm, and raising a family as well. She’s married to Mark Geller and has two children, Kendall, 7, and Rose, 6, and two step children, Alex, 17, and Izzy, 15.

Her family is a major reason she volunteers, she said.

“I grew up in Louisville and my dad (the late Kenneth Hirsch) was always on boards and doing things in the Louisville community,” she said. “I remember hearing my mom once say that my dad never said no to anyone who asked him to be involved.”

She also takes inspiration from her father-in-law, Harry Geller, who “is an amazing supporter” of “our synagogue and the JCL.”

That familial sense of giving is something she wants to pass on to her children.

“I think it is important for them to understand that our community does not operate without volunteers. You have to support what is important to you. The Jewish community will not thrive without our support,” she said.

Geller said she was surprised and deeply honored by the award.

“There are a lot of really great, hard-working people in this community. I am friends with many of them,” she said. “Some say it takes a village to raise your kids, but I think it takes a village just to support me, working a full time job, with two, sometimes four kids, and supporting this community the way I want to do it. … I have a ‘village’ of friends who encourage me, my family (especially my husband and mom who pick up the pieces when I can’t be everywhere at once), and two fathers who I have had in my life who inspire me to make this community a better place than I found it in.”

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