In most of Jewish communal life, a wide gulf — a mechitza, if you will — exists between professionals who run organizations on a day-to-day basis and lay volunteers who lend their time, sweat and leadership to a myriad of projects.
And then there’s Lisa Roberts, who seems to be at home in both worlds.
Let us count the hats she wears. Her day job is program coordinator for the Rosenthal JCC of Northern Westchester in Pleasantville. Last summer, Roberts coordinated housing for the 1,300 visiting teen athletes for the Westchester Maccabi Games. Wearing her volunteer hat, Roberts serves as a vice president of the Westchester Jewish Conference. And she is financial secretary of her congregation, Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford.
Come Jan. 30 Roberts will be honored by the Westchester Jewish Conference for the significant professional and personal contributions she has made to Jewish life in Westchester. The honor will come at the Conference’s Anniversary Gala, which also features a performance of Broadway music by Kol Hazzanim — the Cantors of Westchester, at Temple Israel of New Rochelle.
“I’m much more comfortable behind the scenes,” said a modest Roberts. “I’m not that comfortable in the spotlight.”
Praise for Roberts is universal.
“It’s rare to have someone so involved as a volunteer and professionally in the Jewish community,” said Elliot Forchheimer, executive director of the Westchester Jewish Conference, adding that with the Maccabi Games, Roberts “played such a pivotal role. The timing was perfect. We wanted to prolong the Maccabi magic.”
Added Ronald E. Burton, president of the Westchester Jewish Conference, “If there was an award for Most Valuable and Most Versatile Jewish Communal Servant of Westchester, Lisa Roberts would win — hands down. The Conference has seen fit to honor a most deserving recipient. Lisa represents all that’s good about Jewish communal life in the county. She single-handedly spread the good word about the Maccabi Games. She believes in the notion that if Jewish teens can get together for a reason like sports, or the arts, and meet like-minded Jewish kids, that’s a big part of continuity. The Maccabi Games represented such an apex for Westchester’s community spirit.”
Roberts, who lives in Mahopac with her husband and has a 24-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son, is a native of Miami Beach. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as an MBA in finance and international business from New York University; she worked on Wall Street until the birth of her daughter.
Roberts’ initial involvement as a parent volunteer with the JCC of Northern Westchester, at its now-defunct Mahopac site, ultimately led to her current career in Jewish communal life.
“I consider myself very fortunate,” said Roberts. “My work life affords me to be involved in the Jewish community in a lot of different ways.”
Roberts credits her experience with the Reform movement’s summer camp as a significant influence on Jewish communal involvement. “I went to Coleman camp [near Atlanta],” she said. “That was powerful in fostering Jewish identity.”
The Maccabi Games exerted a similar attraction for Roberts. “That community building lasts well beyond the five days of the Games,” she said. “I will never forget it. It’s a powerful experience for the kids, and hosting is a powerful experience for the families.”
And while the gala is honoring Roberts, its organizers emphasize that the event is very much about the collective community.
“It is about the entire Westchester community,” said Bill Schrag, who serves with Roberts as a vice-president of the WJC. “Lisa has been great about sharing the spotlight with the cantors, and the cantors, too, have been wonderful about sharing. It’s a really collaborative effort. What’s really incredible, given the economy, is how well we’ve been doing, financially and otherwise. It’s a communal love-in.” n
For more information about the WJC Gala, or for reservations and sponsorship information, please contact Nancy Zaro, (914) 328-7001 or e-mail at email@example.com.