In new role, Israel activist to spread word about JNF
‘We’re more than planting trees,’ says attorney Lisa Lisser
After years as a volunteer with the Jewish community, Lisa Lisser is making the leap from “lay leader” to “professional” as senior campaign executive of the Jewish National Fund, whose regional office is in Florham Park.
A lawyer who grew up in a Livingston family deeply involved in Jewish affairs, Lisser will work in expanding support for the organization and spreading “awareness that JNF does much, much more than plant trees as bar and bat mitzva gifts,” she said.
In addition to its afforestation efforts, JNF’s Israel projects include fire prevention, water conservation, environmental research, security, community development, and education.
“I want people to know what wonderful projects JNF’s involved in, and all the amazing partnerships that we’re part of,” Lisser said.
Lisser comes to JNF after playing leadership roles with the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, where she is a member of the executive board and chair of its Legow Family Israel Program Center.
While the two organizations have carved out distinct roles in supporting Israel they are — if not exactly partners — cooperative friends.
Lisser said she plans to maintain her leadership efforts with the federation — “I think of federation people as mishpocha,” or family, she told NJJN in an interview on March 1 — and sees the two endeavors as complementary.
Lisser, who lives in Short Hills, recently returned from a trip to Israel, where she visited the federation’s partner communities, including Arad and Ofakim/Merchavim, and met with candidates applying to come to Greater MetroWest as emissaries. But she also spent time with her new JNF colleagues and visited some of the organization’s farming projects.
Lisser’s connection to Israel runs deep. She had her bat mitzva celebration there in 1978, and then went back 19 years later, in 2005, on a federation Ahava mission — the first of its kind after the start of the Second Intifada.
“It was a life-changing experience for every single one of the 16 women on that trip,” she said.
She went on to become a Wexner Israel fellow and to serve on the Partnership2Gether committee, shaping the MetroWest relationship with Israeli communities through the Jewish Agency’s twinning programs. She has visited the country 10 times in eight years, gradually becoming more fluent in Hebrew.
Three years ago, in Israel, she met Natan Sharansky, the famed refusenik who became head of the Jewish Agency. When she attended the General Assembly last year, he recognized her and engaged her in conversation.
Promoting “peoplehood” has been a Jewish Agency priority of his, said Lisser, and it is central to her own drive. It’s also what made her say yes to the job offer from JNF’s Central NJ executive director, Joel Leibowitz.
After meeting with Lisser last year, said Leibowitz, “I was very impressed — with her love of Israel and what she has been doing. She’s great, and she brings a lot to JNF and to this office.”
Lisser and her three children — a son, 17, and two daughters, 14 and 11 — are members of Congregation B'nai Israel in Millburn. The girls were with her on her most recent trip to Israel.
She said she wants her children “to think of being in Israel as part of their lives, not just something for special occasions.”