Who The Folk?! Laura Monn Ginsburg

Laura Monn Ginsburg isn’t at her happiest unless she’s really busy. Fortunately, that seems to be her default state. Ginsburg is a co-founder and partner in the public policy and affairs firm Apparatus, and she is the incoming board chair of the National Council of Jewish Women Minnesota. Ginsburg talks about her job, her volunteering, and how the two merge in this week’s Who The Folk?!

What do you do at Apparatus?

It’s a little bit of what we call a “think-do-tank” where we come up with our own original projects, then come up with funding and partnerships to make them happen. Our big project right now is “Drive Together MPLS.” How can we bring self-driving technology, car-sharing technology, and electric vehicle technology into Minneapolis, in both public and private considerations? How do we reimagine public transit, public service so it can be more efficient, more green, more hospitable, more accessible?

As part of that work, we tried to actually get to think about transit in ways that are exciting to them. We did a 10-episode podcast series called “Here to There.” Each episode was half commuting with somebody, however they commuted: Car, bus, train, walking, etc. The second half was talking with an advocate, elected official, policy maker, a future thinker, about how we get more considerations for the front half of the podcast. How do incent people to use electric vehicles, how do we think about our highway systems initially being used to segregate and how do we break down those effects.

Do you look at as an advocacy organization?

We’re a for-profit but filed as a general benefit corporation, which sort of puts us somewhere between a non-profit and a for-profit. We partner with non-profits regularly. Being a general-benefit corporation means we exclusively work on projects that advance social justice and more equitable outcomes. There’s a do-gooder angle. But we fundamentally believe non-profits shouldn’t have to bear all the do-gooder-ness.

That belief system seems to run very parallel with NCJW.

Absolutely. And empowering people to be a part of that. Whether it’s grassroots advocacy and going to the Capitol and feeling like I can show up and be someone with a voice about the things I care about. And that’s what I’m trying to accomplish in my work as well. NCJW ticked all the boxes for me. Most people come to NCJW through a friend, a connection, someone they’re related to. I found it on the internet. I was chairing the board of another organization and was coming to the end of that role, and I don’t like to slow down. I started looking at what could be my next organization. I didn’t have much of a personal Jewish community, and so I thought this was a great time to explore that. I had a 1-year-old at the time and thought it was the time to build up this family that I don’t necessarily have. I googled “progressive, women’s Jewish organization Minneapolis” and there it was.

You had a 1-year-old at the time; you couldn’t have been slowing down that much!

I guess I’m not happy unless I’m really, really busy. Full-time job, full-time volunteer, full-time mom. Time management is one of my most formidable skills, so I like to exercise it at all times. I met with (executive director) Beth Gendler and someone from our outreach and engagement committee, and I just got right in – and they did such an amazing job of slip-streaming me right in, finding me a mentor, having someone check in with me. Very much set your own pace and own tone. The next year they asked me to be on the board and then I’ll be president in May 2018.

That feels like fast ramp up. What is it about the organization that you’ve experienced that has made you ready for the jump?

Having already been a board chair, I’m confident that I already understand what that role is like, so that helps me feel more confident – since everything else for me totally jells from the issues to the mission to the people themselves and what they’re working on, it all fits. I don’t feel like I have to get to know anything else to know it’s the right organization to give that much time to.

Is already having been a board chair half the battle?

Being a board member and being a board chair is entirely different. When you’re a board member, it’s all about participating and talking about ideas and being a part of the neck that moves the head of the organization. As president, you take a step back in a lot of ways because you are facilitating and convening and making sure that that good generative discussion is happening. But in a lot of ways, you are making it a good, safe space to happen rather than being a person with all the ideas saying “this is what I think” or “this is what I want.”

I’m co-chairing the advocacy committee currently to get to know that area; I’ve sat on a couple other committees to get to know them as well, like the leadership development and engagement and outreach. So now I’m in the advocacy space to really feel what we’re doing in these distinct issue areas we’re focused on. And they are hard: Reproductive justice, gun violence prevention, human trafficking, judicial nominations. And we have this racial equity lens that we’re trying to look at everything with, and how do we bring that into all areas of how we comport ourselves as an organization and the work we’re doing.

You said you were looking for something in the Jewish community; did you grow up here?

I did. I grew up in Chanhassen, and I didn’t grow up especially Jewish. My mother is Jewish and my father is Catholic. I kind of grew up with the best of both, but not a lot of depth in either. We did the holidays and I was raised with a really strong moral fiber and a strong sense of self, and right and wrong, and doing right and giving back. The things that are the core tenant of any religion, but Judaism certainly. We just weren’t particularly observant in the formal sense. I didn’t belong to a religious community full stop. Growing up in Chanhassen there isn’t a lot of diversity in that space. That made me a bit prouder of it and I wanted to wear it. In my contrarian nature, I put out front that I am Jewish. I went to Carleton in Northfield for undergrad and there is a large Jewish community there. There’s a lot of diversity period. But there was a large, active Jewish community. I had a bit of imposter syndrome: can I just show up, even though I don’t know the prayers and the songs? I met my husband there the end of my freshman year. My story of meeting Elliot was funny: I asked him how he voted because that was a non-starter for me. He said, “I’m Jewish and from Massachusetts.” And I said he answered all my questions. It was Elliot that I went to all these things with, and that gave me the bravery and curiosity to say I’m going to explore this now. It was a way to legitimize me, even though I was already Jewish. I had this later in life affirmation.

In a lot of ways, I got to choose it because I wasn’t tied to it. It was an actual decisive moment. When we got married, we had a Jewish ceremony, now we belong to Temple Israel. That’s how we’re committed to living. But we celebrate Christmas with my parents because that was one of the traditions I grew up with.

Do you have an agenda you’re coming into board chairmanship with?

It’s always been on the right path, and now more than ever, not only do we need organizations that are focusing on these progressive issues, but we need women that are stepping up and finding a place and space for themselves in a way that’s right for them to be part of all the resistance we need to be putting on the front lines right now.

Favorite Jewish holiday?

Passover. My other favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, so any food-centric holiday. Especially now with a 4-year-old, the storytelling is so fun. And I just like when people are together. There’s something about Passover in the springtime and the renewal.

Favorite Jewish food?

Latkes. Anything that’s a vehicle for sour cream is good in my book. They’re delicious. I make them all the time. I always have a box of the mix on hand. For me, it’s all about the sour cream.

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About Lonny Goldsmith

Lonny Goldsmith is the editor of TC Jewfolk and Director of Communications for Jewfolk Media. He's an award-winning journalist who is involved in his third Jewish community after growing up in Michigan and spending a three-year stint in Chicago. He likes to write, cook and drink really good beer. He can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @lonny_goldsmith

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