It already takes the calendar on his cell phone for Jonathan Liss to keep his life in order.
“It’s key to knowing where I’m meant to be,” said the West Orange lawyer, husband, father, and community activist.
Now he’s getting encouraged to take on even more. He and fellow activist Taryn Berelowitz have been chosen to receive the 2015 Julius and Bessie Cohn Young Leadership Award from Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Young leaders who are picked for the award tend to take on more and more communal responsibility in the years that follow.
Liss and Berelowitz will receive the honor on Wednesday, April 15, at “A New York State of Mind,” the Young Leadership Division gala hosted by the federation at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange.
Liss, 43, is an attorney and counsel at Gibbons PC. He and his wife, Elizabeth, and their two children belong to Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell. He told NJ Jewish News he first got involved with the local Jewish community when he moved to West Orange from Philadelphia eight years ago.
“Working collectively, we can make a difference, and make life better for others who might be less fortunate,” he said.
He graduated from the federation’s 2008 Arthur Borinsky Young Leadership Development Program and became involved in the YLD, serving for two years as its campaign chair and two years as YLD chair. For three years, he was a vice chair of federation’s Annual Campaign, and in 2009, he participated in the Epstein Leadership Mission to Israel. He chaired the Epstein mission the following year.
For the past two years, he has chaired federation’s budget and finance committee and continues to serve on its board of trustees and executive committee.
He acknowledged that balancing so many demands on his time can be challenging. It helps, he said, to have “a supportive and encouraging spouse who also values community engagement.”
His wife is a cochair of the April 15 event, together with Neeli Margolis and Ricky Bell Peled. He e-mailed his answers to NJJN during a Passover break in Palm Springs, Calif., where both he and Elizabeth were busy on their laptops, working on the event.
‘Make a difference’
Berelowitz, who lives with her husband, Gavin, and their three sons in Livingston, handles a similar balancing act: In addition to her community activities, she runs a home-based business importing baby blankets from South Africa, where she was born.
She is a graduate of the 2011 Borinsky program and was its cochair in 2012 and 2013. In 2012, she went to Israel on Heart to Heart, the Jewish Federations of North America’s national mission for women, and to Ukraine with the Greater MetroWest federation. In 2014, she was named a Seymour Epstein Fellow and took part in its leadership mission to Israel.
Berelowitz serves on the federation board, as Women’s Philanthropy vice president with responsibility for the Young Women’s Campaign, and on JFNA’s Young Leadership Cabinet. This summer, she will chair GMW’s Young Women’s Mission to Israel. She and her family are members of Ahavat Torah-Chabad at Short Hills.
Berelowitz says she was introduced to the concept of tikun olam as a child in Cape Town, and got involved with federation about five years ago. “Community work has become a passion of mine as I realize the importance in the work we do, and that each of us truly can make a difference,” she said. “It gives my life balance. I have grown so much personally with every opportunity, whether it be in a leadership role or going on missions to see the work we do around the world.”
As for keeping that balance, she said, in addition to the support and participation of her husband and children, “getting my friends involved with federation has been a great help as we get to spend time together doing projects that are meaningful and bonding.”
Both honorees have been accepted to the Wexner Heritage Program, a two-year nationwide program designed to strengthen the skills of Jewish communal leaders. They are also both involved with Golda Och Academy in West Orange, where their children are students. Liss is a member of the GOA board of trustees and serves as chair of its annual Shomrei Torah Campaign.
Speaking of the Cohn award, Liss said, “It is nice to be recognized, but what is really great about this award is the amazing club we join of past recipients who continue to be involved in the community sometimes 20 or 30 years after they were honored with the Cohn award.”
Berelowitz said, “It is a chance for me to tell my story, spread the word about what makes federation important to me and why I am passionate about it.
“If I can inspire a few people to take some time out of their schedule and join us — that’s success.”