Linda Slucker is still in awe of some parts of her job. Take walking in the front entrance to the White House, something she has already done four times.
“‘Do you know where we are walking and who has been here — the leaders and presidents?’” she recalled saying to her husband as they walked into the annual White House Hanukka party in December. “It was unbelievable. It’s an out-of-body experience.”
Slucker, who lives in West Orange, was installed as national president of NCJW in March, for a three-year term.
As the voice of 90,000 members of National Council of Jewish Women, this stay-at-home mom, who has made the progressive Jewish women’s organization her career, now takes a seat at some of the most influential tables in politics.
She didn’t go to graduate school for public policy; rather, her training was all hands-on, over 35 years with the organization and 12 on its board.
Among her most effective tools, she said, are “honesty about my passion about the issues, and knowing what our constituents want me to say.” And it doesn’t hurt to network. “It’s all about relationship building and coalition building,” she said.
On a recent rainy Thursday morning, sitting on a deep red floral patterned easy chair in the living room of her colorfully decorated townhouse, Slucker described what it’s like to lead the 118-year-old organization at a time of economic distress and political urgency, and the main issues facing women today.
At the top of her agenda is keeping the organization viable over the long term. That means, in a nutshell, fund-raising, her demonstrated expertise locally and nationally.
“People think it’s a volunteer organization, where women give their time, their passion, and their commitment, but not their money. People have to understand that money and passion go together,” she said.
While she said the organization has done better than most in economic hard times — before the economic recovery, 2009-2010, she said, “we raised more money than in a very long time” — a new development director will join the organization in June. Slucker’s vision includes more million-dollar gifts going to NCJW.
“I know there is capacity — women who feel the commitment but haven’t been tapped. I see it, I feel it,” she said.
Looking at the issues, abortion rights top the organization’s agenda, Slucker said.
“After all these years, Roe v. Wade is still out there, and we are still fighting that fight,” she said. “There are young women out there who do not know anything but the freedom of choice, but this is being eroded severely. It is one of our cornerstone issues.”
She added, “We’re still out there trying to make people understand that a woman’s right to choose is a private, personal, moral, and religious matter.”
Other key NCJW issues, she said, are maintaining safety nets for underprivileged families and children, preventing domestic violence, and protecting civil liberties, especially for the gay and lesbian community.
Slucker said she plans to turn up the volume on grassroots advocacy — encouraging members to send letters and forward on-line petitions to legislators. But watch also for a concerted effort to raise the number of members.
“We are at 90,000 people in the country. If you think of how many progressive Jewish women are out there — we should be at 190,000,” she said.
Making a difference
The organization, as always, will not endorse any candidates in the 2012 presidential election but will focus on preparing voters.
“Our goal will be to educate women,” Slucker said. “The more voters know about candidates’ backgrounds and their voting records, the more they can hold them accountable for legislation they have voted for or against.”
Slucker said she is looking forward to the organization’s 2013 Washington Institute, when 150 NCJW members converge on DC for a day of lobbying on Capitol Hill.
The organization has frequent lobbying days in every state. The Washington Institute, which happens every three years, is an opportunity for a larger group to reinforce the efforts she and others in the national office spend advocating among government officials.
Slucker and her husband, Rudy, are members of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange and have two grown sons and one grandchild.
Slucker first joined NCJW for social connections. Born in Houston, she had been living in Ohio since high school and was a new transplant to South Orange. “I didn’t know anyone,” she said.
While the friends she made through NCJW are still among her closest, she discovered something else. “I realized through this organization, we were making a really big difference in our community — we could see it; it was tangible.”
The Sluckers raised their family in South Orange, where they lived until about 10 years ago. In 1996, she cofounded the Rachel Coalition, a Jewish Response to Domestic Violence in MetroWest and served as its copresident until 1998. During her 1996-98 presidency of NCJW’s Essex County Section, she established and served as chair of its Legacy for the Future Endowment Fund, which was created to ensure the long-term financial viability of the section.
She moved from local to national leadership, and has served on NCJW’s board as assistant treasurer and vice president. She has served on the investment committee and chaired the NCJW Fund Development committee.
One of her proudest moments, she said, was watching as President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which extended the ability of women to file equal-pay lawsuits, a cause that NCJW actively supported.
“Women are making advances,” she said. “That was a great piece of legislation.”
Slucker also served as a spokesperson for BenchMark: NCJW’s 2002-05 Judicial Nominations Campaign, whose aim was to get more women in the judiciary.
But with the agenda in front of her, Slucker said, she finds it difficult to stop and rest on the laurels of NCJW’s accomplishments. “There are so many issues in front of us, it’s hard to remember how far we’ve come.”