By Gayle Gynup
Lisa Eisen, co-President of Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, will be the featured speaker at this year’s Women’s Day event sponsored by The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee. The luncheon will be held on March 8 at 11:30 a.m. at the Art Ovation Hotel in Sarasota.
This year’s theme, The WondHERful in You, celebrates the power and importance of women in leadership and philanthropy. The co-chairs of the event are Debbie Gordon, Courtney Rosenthal, Irene Ross, and Jaime Marco, who will serve as Moderator for the event. In an interview format, Lisa will address the importance of women’s engagement, the issues affecting women in the Jewish community and in broader American society right now, and why it is so important to invest in women and girls.
“This year, our focus is on the attendees as well as the speaker. Our audience of women and men at the Women’s Day event has tremendous power as individuals, yet we haven’t always highlighted that. This year, we are focusing on the voice of the audience. Lisa has demonstrated that her voice matters and has a tremendous impact on women and children and human rights around the globe. Our hope is that our audience will think about their passions and how they can make a difference in the world,” Jaime Marco said.
Born in Chicago, Lisa grew up in a small Jewish neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky. Her parents were always very involved in the community and served as her first role models. Her father, Rich Bergman, heads major gifts at the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee.
“My dad was a businessman, but he also held lay-leadership roles in almost every Jewish institution,” she said. “With him as my role model, I became very involved at a young age in community volunteering and held leadership roles, including heading my Jewish youth group, BBYO, USY.”
Her college experience was similar. “I was a nice Jewish girl from Louisville so when I went to Yale naturally my assigned roommate was a nice Jewish girl from Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Stacy Schusterman (Charles and Lynn’s daughter) and I were college activists together. Most of the leadership roles I held were done in partnership with her,” she said.
Lisa went on to graduate magna cum laude from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in History and earned her Master of Arts degree with honors in Israeli and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“I always felt called to make a difference, and in order to make a difference you have to step up to the plate,” she said. After finishing her master’s in Israel, Lisa got married and she and her husband traveled the world for a year, then settled in the Washington D.C. area where they raised their three children.
Lisa spent nearly a decade as the Executive Director of Project Interchange, a program that brings American and global leaders to Israel and is part of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
“I was very proud of our work at AJC, but I knew in my heart that I wanted to be working more deeply in the Jewish community. I wrote a letter to Lynn and Charles Schusterman telling them how inspired I was by their efforts to keep the next generation of young Jews involved. Sadly, Charles passed away shortly thereafter after a long-term illness, but in 2001 reached out asking me to open an office for their foundation in Washington.
“The Washington office is now our largest office, and we have grown and evolved tremendously over my 20-year tenure,” she said. “Our mission is to create more just and inclusive societies in the United States and Israel. We now have seven grant-making portfolios, two of which I oversee: our U.S.-Jewish work, and a portfolio on gender and reproductive equity. We also give to education, democracy and voting rights, criminal justice reform, and economic justice.
“This next generation of Jews is very motivated to make a difference. A Pugh study found that 59 percent of American Jews see working for justice and equality as an essential part of being Jewish. Because of this, we created an organization called Repair the World, of which I was the founding board chair. This was our main vehicle during the pandemic when there were so many needs. Repair the World created the Jewish Service Alliance which brings service and volunteerism into institutions and communities. I personally see it as the purpose of the Jewish people to repair the world, to be a light unto the nations, to help those in need, and bring more justice into the world.
“I believe if we engage the next generation in opportunities that resonate and are meaningful, where they feel they can make a difference, we have reason to be optimistic about our future,” Lisa said.
In terms of philanthropy, while women and girls make up about 50 percent of the U.S. population, only about 1.9 percent of charitable dollars go to those women and girls. “That’s an outrageous number, and we need it to change,” Lisa said. “We need to be investing in our women and girls,” she said.
Asked what advice she would give to young women just starting out in their careers, Lisa said, “I would tell them to believe in themselves. Be strong and confident. Do your homework. Do not be bullied or intimidated. Find a female mentor or a sponsor who is further along on their career ladder. Take risks and be willing to fail. I like to say ‘there is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone.’ My last suggestion is to carve out sacred space for yourself. If you are ambitious and passionate, you will find yourself working all the time. That’s not sustainable. I find time for myself every day. I carve out space for my husband and my family and friends. You need that rest and renewal so you can continue to contribute to the world.”