Matt Golden envisions building local bridges as JCRC director

By Community Staff

Matt Golden knows what makes Louisville tick. He has spent much of his career winding the watch.

The Louisville lawyer spent 25 years in the Jefferson County attorney’s office, doing everything from vice to DUI prosecutions, to managing the tax department and the civil division before retiring as first assistant – the highest appointed position in the elected office.

He did a yearlong stint as general counsel to TARC, helping the transit service keep the buses running during the COVID pandemic and “falling in love” (his words) with its mission of getting students to school and parents to work – what he calls “economic development at its smallest scale.” 

He currently serves as chief of public services in the mayor’s office, overseeing the fire department, EMS, MetroSafe, corrections, youth transportation services and, most recently, the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods.

With that kind of resume, what happens on the streets and in the homes of this city is clearly a passion for the Louisville native, and he plans to bring that passion to his new role.

Golden, 51, will become the next director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). He starts October 6, succeeding Matt Goldberg, who left to become director of caring and community relations for the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, California.

He will be Louisville’s first full-time JCRC director.

“I cannot think of anyone more qualified to assume this position,” said Sara Klein Wagner, president and CEO of the Trager Family JCC and Jewish Federation of Louisville, who lauded Golden’s “genuine curiosity and natural ability to bring people together, even when they disagree.”

JCRC Committee Chair, Beth Salamon, says, “I am really looking forward to working with Matt. I believe that he will continue the good work the committee started and bring his own fresh ideas.”

For Jewish Louisville to connect with the world, it must first connect with its neighborhoods, Golden said in a recent interview.

“It has to start locally,” he said. “You have to be able to think about the community bridges that you build here; it’s where we live.”

But he is not an isolationist.

“We’re interconnected with every Jew across the planet,” Golden said, “so I don’t think we can just be local either.”

The local issues that drive Jewish relations differ from city to city. In San Diego, it may be refugees seeking asylum from across the border. Here, something more historical, like the 2016 fight over the Confederate monument on the University of Louisville campus, a case Golden worked on as an assistant county attorney.

“That was my introduction to public art,” he said of the high-profile case that split the community, but he still believes it was settled correctly.

“That [statue] was not done concurrently with the Civil War obviously; it was done decades after the Civil War, and it was designed by people who wanted to revive that sort of southern gentility and cover up a lot of terrible, terrible things.”

While he says it’s too soon to lay out an agenda for JCRC because he wants to work with the members of the JCRC to develop it, Golden said there are issues he cares deeply about. Justice and bail reform are at the top of the list.

Golden described the plight of the incarcerated as a “bellwether” for a community.

“It is what you do with those who you want to turn your eye away from the most and how you treat these people is a reflection on you.”

He will encourage JCRC members to focus their time and resources, noting that no council can tackle everything without diminishing its impact.

“I want to make sure that they are telling me where they want to go,” he said. Although, “I want to do two or three big things, and I want to make sure that we’re grabbing two or three great issues.”

Anti- Semitism, which will occupy much of Golden’s time, has changed since his boyhood when neo-Nazism and Klan rallies were fringe activities that sometimes made the evening news.

“Now it seems to be everywhere,” he said. “It becomes more and more normalized when so many polarizing things are going on.”

But the best way to combat anti-Semitism is to build “community bridges.”

“It’s hard to dislike the people you’re working with,” he said. “I do not think the first thing we should talk about is anti-Semitism. The first thing we should talk about is what is going on in my community and how can we engage and help.”

A Louisville native, Golden grew up at The Temple, where he had his bar mitzvah and confirmation. He went on to graduate from the University of Kentucky and the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.

He is married to Micah Daniels, also a Louisville attorney. The couple has three children: two identical twin daughters, 9, and a son, 6.

“I have long admired Matt’s commitment to public service and his love for our community,” Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer said of his departing administrator. “I’m thrilled that he will continue to use his expertise and skills to serve Louisville’s Jewish community in his new role.”

While he has done several “neat things” in his career, Golden noted two experiences that have changed him.

One was an immersive trip he took to Mexico to study its legal system. The experience sensitized him to the plight of defendants in an unfamiliar legal system when he learned that judges there can decide cases based on folios from both sides without ever seeing the defendant or litigant.

But the second experience hit closer to home. In 2004, then-JCRC director Wagner called Golden, inviting him to join a small-group mission to Israel.

“It was a fascinating trip, a really interesting trip for me,” Golden said, “and I made her a promise, that I would be more engaged.”

That engagement influenced his work as an attorney and soon, as a JCRC director. He did not become a regular service-goer, but he did find himself drawn to Torah study.

“I find that more fascinating,” Golden said. “For me, at least, the Torah is not really about my relationship between me and G-d; it’s about my relationship between me and you.”

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