Thinking Globally With Liza Levy

Photo courtesy of Liza Levy

Liza Levy is a community activist who has received numerous awards and recognitions for decades of volunteer service in the D.C. area Jewish community.

A retired teacher, Levy, 62, is a past president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, co-founder of the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse and co-founder of the Tikkun Olam Women’s Foundation, which invests in programs for women and girls.

In 1984, she and her then husband, Dr. Michael Levy, immigrated from Cape Town, South Africa, to the United States, settling in Washington, D.C. They have three children.

A resident of Potomac, Levy is a member and past board member of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda.

Your current focus is the Joint Distribution Committee and you are serving on the board. What has this cause meant to you?

Well, working within the Jewish community and working with a disaster relief and humanitarian organization that is worldwide, not only in Israel, it’s in every corner of the globe, the JDC has a presence, provided it’s not unsafe to be there. I find that very encouraging, looking outside of ourselves, looking at the greater good, is something that has always touched my heart. Being part of an organization that sees the world so globally and can be a Jewish representative on the ground anywhere, I think that’s really impressive.

What world and national events have significantly influenced your life?

Well, I think that South African history and the history of apartheid, the struggle, was a major event for me that was ongoing. And then there was the release of Nelson Mandela and the enormous change that occurred subsequent to that.

Describe a time in your life when you felt you were ahead of your time.

At the time we founded the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, our community was not necessarily ready to face those challenges. Bringing that to our community, creating the awareness that this is something we need to be paying attention to. We pushed the envelope a little bit and forced people to look at the issues.

Who have been your role models? What about them do you admire?

Well, certainly my father. Back when I was a child, I have all these memories of his Jewish communal leadership, which always inspired me. When I started getting more involved, it was always in the back of my head, it was almost like he was egging me on, pushing me forward, saying, “Yes, this is something that you should be doing. You need to be in the middle of all of this.”

Then there were the women of The Federation who came before me in their leadership, Dede Feinberg [former president of Federation and of Women’s Philanthropy]. Following in their esteemed footsteps was humbling. I’m proud to be part of that group of women.

Once I stepped into my role as president, it was [the late] Paul Berger. We had a family connection. He was just extremely wise, never spoke unless he had something really valuable to add to the conversation. Then I would understand what I needed to do and be able to then move forward with whatever decision it was that needed to be made.

What in your life has brought or given you great satisfaction and fulfillment?

Clearly the volunteer work with the Jewish community has been a big piece of my life. It became a career and that’s a huge satisfaction. My children are a big part of it, having a strong family. All my family over time has come over from South Africa to the Washington area. Having my children grow up, knowing their grandparents and their cousins, having a closeness, having Shabbat dinners together in the way that I did as a child has been extremely satisfying because many of my South African friends have not had that opportunity. It’s something I’ve always treasured. ■

Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.

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