By Lee Chottiner
When Ralph Green became next in line for the chairmanship of the Jewish Community of Louisville Board of Directors, he never could have expected to start his term this way.
A global pandemic shut down the entire community in March and nationwide protests for a societal change have rocked the community.
To complicate matters further, the sources of revenue that support the JCL and other institutions are only now starting to recover.
“These are really uncertain times,” said Green, who assumed the chairmanship during the JCL’s 11th Annual Meeting on July 6. “We really don’t know what the next six to 12 months are going to bring.”
On the flip side, the 65-year-old oral surgeon and lifelong Jewish activist also sees now as possibly the most exciting time to be chair: Ground is about to be broken for the new Jewish Community Center on the Dutchmans Lane campus, and Green expects much of his two-year term to be devoted to tackling issues related to construction and opening the state-of-art facility.
“I’m excited about taking over the chairmanship at a very unusual time,” Green said. “I feel very fortunate to have a very strong board of directors and an extremely talented and hardworking staff to work with. It will take all of us to navigate through all this craziness.”
Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Green came of age during the civil rights movement. He was a boy when Martin Luther King Jr. famously struggled to desegregate his hometown, and his rabbi, Milton Grafman, whom he credits as influential in his life, took part in the struggle.
“He was a very powerful and spiritual man,” Green recalled, “a classic Reform rabbi, but a very spiritual guy. I just looked up to him in many ways – for civil rights and Zionism, he was very strong on all those subjects.”
But civil rights wasn’t the only force in his life. His parents, both Zionists, moved him and his sister to Israel in 1971, where they made Aliyah. Green finished high school there.
In 1973, though, instead of going into the Israeli army, he returned to the United States, to college and later dental school. He left in August of that year.
Two months later, the Yom Kippur War broke out.
Green never expected a war to start so soon after he left for college. “It was really a peaceful time and I knew I wanted to go to dental school,” he said. “It was a kind of fateful thing that the war broke out two months after I left Israel.”
He started college at Purdue University, excelling in his work. Two years he later, he received early acceptance to dental school at the University of Louisville, never graduating from Purdue.
“You could say I was a college dropout,” he quipped.
Green stayed in Louisville after dental school, establishing a practice and becoming active in the Jewish community. He calls it “home base,” since his older brother already lived here and, his parents and sister were in Israel
He has now spent 37 years in private practice as a dentist and specialist in oral and maxillofacial surgery.
Green said his involvement in the Jewish community “was hereditary for me,” a reference to his Zionist roots.
His entry into the community was through Young Men’s Division. He credited Stuart Frankenthal for getting him involved. Frankenthal was in the division at the time and his family was close to Green’s.
Green later joined the Doctor’s Division, served on the JCC board before the merger, did a two-year term as president of the Adath Jeshurun, chaired the Annual Campaign and joined the planning and allocations committee at the same time he came on the JCL board.
Noting the tumult of the times in which he is starting his term, Green said the transition will be eased by his predecessor, Jon Fleischaker, who will stay on for about three to six months as co-chair.
“There’s so much going on right now that’s extraordinary,” he said.
His job can’t be done without good people around him he added.
“It’s very comforting to me,” he said. “It’s not all on my shoulders.”
Green is married to Dr. Shellie Branson. The couple has three sons: Jordan (Married to Abbie Green), Alex and Eric.