Laura Frank was drawn to the Jewish Community Relations Council’s mission since the day she joined Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia as a public relations manager in 2017.
Now, after serving as JCRC’s interim director for seven months — after the departure of prior JCRC director Batya Glazer in July 2020 — she has assumed the role of director.
“I’m excited to really be able to dig deep and work with all the amazing people that are involved to make sure we’re doing everything that we can and should do to keep our community safe and thriving,” she said.
A Seattle native, Frank came to Philadelphia after a year at a music conservatory in New York to study political science at Temple University. As an undergraduate, she was involved in pro-Israel advocacy and anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions work on campus, and worked in Harrisburg for a year as the government relations director for Pennsylvania’s community colleges after finishing her degree.
She returned to Philadelphia for an associate position at Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy. A local PR project with the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs toward the end of her time with the agency sparked her interest in getting involved with Israel advocacy and the Jewish community again.
When a public relations manager position opened at Jewish Federation in 2017, she applied and joined the organization. She later worked as the director of public relations for Jewish Federation and as the publisher’s representative for the Jewish Exponent.
JCRC Board Chair Arlene Fickler said Frank’s background in political science and community relations make her uniquely qualified for the role.
“I am confident that Laura will help us expand the participation in JCRC’s work by members of every sector of the Jewish community, strengthen our relationships with other communities of faith and ethnicity, and advance our efforts to build a just and pluralistic society in which all Americans, including our Jewish community, are secure and free to flourish,” she said in a statement.
Frank had a chance to try that out starting last summer, when she became interim director. One of her first major responsibilities was coordinating a response to the anti-Semitic memes shared by Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, on Facebook in July. She organized an interfaith panel discussion with leaders from Philadelphia’s Black and Jewish communities and members of the Concerned Clergy Coalition of Greater Philadelphia to discuss the incident and identify paths forward.
She said Muhammad’s actions hurt many minority communities in addition to the Jewish community because he promoted ideas rooted in white supremacy, and people were eager to come together to strengthen relationships.
“It was definitely a test,” she said, “but it also was a way for me to learn and to really understand the resilience, the strength, of these community partnerships that already existed, that people already had done so much work on, and also how helpful it was to build new ones to move forward.”
As director, one of Frank’s first priorities is to embark on a virtual “listening tour” of 25 to 30 minority groups and activists in the Philadelphia area to learn more about the challenges they are facing, the projects they are working on and the areas they could use support. She intends to use what she hears to create a new set of strategic imperatives for JCRC.
Her plans include building community relationships to tackle local issues like food insecurity and education disparities, along with broader issues like dismantling white supremacy. Supporting Jews of color, educating communities about their history and increasing their representation in Jewish leadership, is also high on the agenda.
“Strengthening Jewish communal engagement with [non-Jewish] Black communities is really one of our most top priorities, especially after the summer that we all just experienced,” Frank said, referring to the national protests that erupted in response to the killing of George Floyd. “JCRC can and should play a pivotal role in educating our Jewish communities about racism, setting local priorities and mobilizing our communities to action.”
Jewish Federation Board Co-chair Gail Norry said Frank, who lives in Philadelphia with her husband and dog, will continue to use her relationships to lead the organization forward.
“She is going to do a fabulous job of not just building community but building bridges,” she said.