Federation picks a ‘pearl’ for her activism

Federation picks a ‘pearl’ for her activism

In recognition of her service to the community, Smukler is the recipient of the PMB federation’s first Merrye Shavel Hudis Pearl Award.
In recognition of her service to the community, Smukler is the recipient of the PMB federation’s first Merrye Shavel Hudis Pearl Award.

Lisa Smukler says it was her husband’s parents, particularly his father, who inspired her to develop a strong community service ethic. 

Her father-in-law, Joe, grew up the son of a wallpaper hanger in the Strawberry Mansion section of Philadelphia. 

“Joe’s father would have him bring food to a family down the street who were even poorer than the Smuklers,” she said. “Joe’s instructions were to ring the bell and leave the food on the doorstep.

“When Joe asked his father, ‘Should I tell them who it is from?’ his father replied, ‘Tell them it is from a man with a gute neshome [a good soul].’”

Smukler said Joe’s family “had nothing growing up, and his father still knew to give tzedaka anonymously, which is the best way to do it.” 

Joe would go on to become a Philadelphia lawyer and philanthropist who served in high positions at several Jewish organizations. He and his wife Connie were early activists in the movement to free Soviet Jewry. 

“My father-in-law was always working for charity,” Lisa Smukler said. “Community service was very important to him, and he was a huge influence on me — he was a role model.”

Like her in-laws, Smukler has been active in a host of Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, Greenwood House, and Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County.

The Princeton resident was scheduled to be center-stage at the PMB federation’s annual meeting on Oct. 1, honored in recognition of her community service with bestowal of the first Merrye Shavel Hudis Pearl Award.

Smukler has been a member of the federation’s executive board since 1999, serving as president from 2009 to 2011; she was president of its Women’s Division from 2002 to 2004 and has served as chair or associate chair of the general and Women’s Division campaigns, Major Gifts, the ARMDI Safam concert as well as the Women’s Division’s Spring Luncheon, Lion of Judah event, and leadership development.

Smukler first got involved at Greenwood House, the multi-service senior facility in Ewing, giving manicures to residents on Wednesdays, and has been on its board since 2000, serving as vice president from 2003 to 2007 and as chair of the facility’s galas in 2001 and in 2003, which was in honor of the Siegel family and which featured as speaker former President Bill Clinton. 

She was on the boards of the JFCS (2001-12) and the Jewish Community Center of PMB (2004-06), serving as chair of The Jewish Center in Princeton’s Beatlemania fund-raiser in January 2014. 

Smukler also serves on the board of trustees of Homefront, a Lawrenceville nonprofit whose mission is to end homelessness in central Jersey, and a member of its development committee since 2010. She brought her Women’s Division experience to Homefront and, along with Amy Vogel, used it to create the Women’s Initiative. 

“Our goal is to get 1,000 women to each give $100 each year to Homefront,” Smukler said. 

Carrying on the family tradition of service, Smukler’s youngest daughter, Brooke, now a freshman at Princeton Day School, asked that all her gifts from her November 2014 bat mitzva be donated to Homefront. The family matched Brooke’s donation, and the kitchen and cafeteria in the organization’s new building were named Grammy’s Galley, in memory of Lisa Smukler’s mother, Susan Meltser Myers. 

The Smuklers’ son, Robby, 22, is a recent graduate of Skidmore College; daughter Janie, 21, is a senior at Emory University. The family belongs to the Jewish Center in Princeton.

Smukler is also a member of Women of Vision, part of Philadelphia’s Jewish federation, where, she said, women pool their gifts and make grants to projects that assist women. She is also involved in a similar project through the Princeton Area Community Foundation.

Smukler grew up in Broomall, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb. She graduated cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania, where she met her husband, Andrew. A graduate of Villanova University School of Law, she worked as an associate at Fox Rothschild O’Brien & Frankel in Philadelphia.

The law firm required its associates to serve on the board of a community organization; she chose the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. “It was my first time actually being on a board and being exposed to Jewish causes,” Smukler said. 

After she married and moved to Princeton and after she had her first child, she stopped working and called the federation to say she wanted to get involved. She quickly found herself on the committee planning the Women’s Division’s Spring Luncheon. “You could really get involved and actually do things here,” she said of the modest-sized PMB federation. “You didn’t have to know the right people; you just had to say, ‘I want to work.’”

Generally shy about awards, Smukler explained why she felt compelled to accept the first Merrye Shavel Hudis Pearl Award, named in memory of a tireless community volunteer who served on the board of the Women’s Campaign for many years. 

“She was always a voice of reason, and she was so wise,” Smukler said of Hudis, who died last November at age 57. “I always held her opinion in high esteem. On a personal level, I also knew her — she was an amazing mother, and I know her brothers, her father, and stepmother.” 

Smukler said that many people approach her, express admiration for her involvement, and say they want to be similarly active. “Getting involved is really easy,” she said she tells them. “One of the tricks is you actually have to do it, and you have to make time for it.”

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