by Shiela Steinman Wallace, Editor
Becky Ruby Swansburg, an up and coming young leader in Louisville, is now recognized nationally as well.
This year, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the parent organization of the Jewish Community Relations Council, created the Frank Family Leadership Institute, a yearlong program to educate a corps of talented leadership for the Jewish community in general and the Jewish community relations field in particular.
JCPA put out a national call for JCRCs across North America to encourage individuals with character, creativity and critical thinking ability to apply for the program. Swansburg was selected to be a member of the inaugural class, which is limited to just 8-10 people and brings together a diverse group of individuals from different geographic areas, ages and backgrounds. “My political background probably puts me in the minority of participants,” Swansburg said, “but I think that’s an opportunity to start discourse about thing that both unite and divide us in the political realm.“In a way, what I love most about the JCPA,” she said, “is that in America, in our entire Jewish community, we’ve come together broadly and created an organization that can be a voice to the community and our legislators.” Everyone is at the table. Discussion is passionate, thoughtful and compassionate as members work to build consensus.
Institute participants will join the annual JCPA Leadership mission in Israel in November, during which they will meet with key decision makers and experts in Israel. They will also participate in a private pre-mission trip to Auschwitz. In addition, they will attend the JCPA Plenum in Atlanta in March.
Through the rest of the year, they will participate in a series of conference call webinars, which will present a comprehensive curriculum about the Jewish community relations field and JCPA. They will explore many topics, including the Jewish community’s place and role in America; what is a Jewish issue; how does the Jewish community reach out to “make friends and influence people;” how does the Jewish community come to consensus on important policy issues; and much more.
At the conclusion of the program, institute participants are expected to join national JCPA task forces and take on other leadership roles in the Jewish community relations arena.
“It’s really wonderful to have this opportunity,” Swansburg said. Louisville has a strong tradition of producing national leaders for JCPA and Louisville’s JCRC is respected throughout the country. Both Lewis Cole and Marie Abrams served the organization as president, and Ron Abrams served as treasurer.
With this legacy, Swansburg noted, “it’s a big responsibility to be not just representing myself, but our entire community in this program.”
Throughout U.S. history, she observed, “the Jewish community has really been one of the leading voices in a lot of the important social and political changes –from integration to immigration – and it’s that work that the JCPA continues.”
Swansburg is a member of Louisville’s JCRC and enjoys the work she does locally. She also enjoyed “attending the JCPA’s plenum earlier this year and getting to see how the Jewish community still includes some of the most forward thinkers in the political arena today.
“One of the reasons I wanted to apply for the Frank Family Leadership Institute,” she explained, “is it’s an opportunity to learn from some of the national leaders in the Jewish community who have been doing this very successfully for a long time. It’s also an opportunity to bring some new ideas and some fresh perspective of a younger generation to the national level.”
“I really applaud the Frank family for putting this program together,” she added, “because we have a tendency to let the leadership in the Jewish community to get a little gray haired. I believe it is important to train the next generation of leaders and this program makes great strides toward doing that.”
Swansburg is especially excited about the mission to Poland and Israel. “I’ve never been to Poland or Auschwitz, she said, “but I’ve heard that both are really impactful places to visit.”
She spoke with Marie Abrams about the Israel portion of the trip and learned that the JCPA Leadership Mission is very different from most missions. “We will be experiencing it through the eyes of their community relations – how their society interacts with itself and the United States.
We do a lot of advocacy for Israel here,” she said.“I’m very excited to hear the Israeli perspective – their hopes for that relationship and how we can really best support them.”
To qualify for the institute, Swansburg had to submit an application that included an essay, commit to paying $1,500 to participate in the program and secure a matching commitment from Louisville’s JCRC. The balance of the program is funded by the Frank family.
In her essay, she wrote that, “growing up in Louisville, I was very active in the Jewish community, BBYO and NFTY,” even serving as a NFTY regional officer. “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 reengaged.”
“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.
“The Frank Family Leadership Institute is a great way to continue that development,” she added, “and I really hope to get some new and innovative ideas to bring back to our community and implement.
“Louisville is a Jewish community that is often willing to try new things,” she continued. “It is willing to be a leader and ahead of the curve. Participating in this program will further that reputation.”
Swansburg is also looking forward to serving the national organization when she completes the program. “It is a very, very exciting aspiration,” she said, “and it means a lot to me that JCPA felt I have qualities that could lead to that kind of service one day.”
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.