(From the New Jersey Jewish News “UJC Update” section, May 28, 2009.)
This article is one in a series profiling Achim-level donors to United Jewish Appeal of MetroWest N.J. Together, the Achim donors set the highest examples of what UJA and all its donors stand for: dedication to helping Jews in need, locally or wherever they are, and a firm commitment to building the future of the Jewish community. Together, they are an inspiration to us all.
Dr Lynne B Harrison of Union is one of the premier Jewish philanthropists, not only in the MetroWest Jewish community but nationally and internationally. A successful and influential scientist and businessperson, as well as president of Harrison Research Laboratories, lnc., she is also a moving force in the Jewish community, both as an Achim-level donor and as an active leader. Dr Harrison is a member of the Executive Board of UJC MetroWest, the Board of Trustees of Temple Sholom of West Essex, Hillel's International Board of Governors, and the Board of Directors of Hillel: The Foundation of Jewish Campus Life. She has established internships at Buenos Aires Hillel, sponsors Shabbat dinners across Buenos Aires, and much more.
Dr Harrison recently became a Partner on the prestigious board of PEJE (Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education), one of only three MetroWest residents to be so honored and making the MetroWest community one of the country's best represented communities on the board. She founded the Dr Lynne B Harrison Science Centers at the NJ Y Camps, to promote Jewish camping by offering science education as a part of the camping experience.
And Dr Harrison will shortly be given another, very rare, and prestigious honor. On June 14, she will receive Hillel's 85th Birthday Founders Award. The event will be marked by Hillel's first global virtual gala celebration -- a format chosen so that all the money raised will go to Hillel's student services rather than a costly event.
When asked why she is so actively involved in the Jewish community, Dr Harrison knows the reason well.
"It's what I learned at my father's knee, that Jews are part of a worldwide family, that all Jews are one, that my ancestors have passed down a tradition of Jewish morals, values, and code of behavior, and it's my obligation as a Jew to live up to it, and my obligation to pass this to my children and my to future descendents I would never live to see. I learned that my family really extended to all Jews."
That understanding of the larger Jewish family and the obligation we have to it has been continued in her own family.
“I am very proud to say that both of my daughters Judi and Debra are lions [Lions of Judah, as is Dr Harrison] in their own communities. In fact, I participated in their pinnings as lions. They are both very involved in their synagogues, and both their families are involved in various Jewish activities appropriate to their ages. One of my grandchildren, Zachary, who is 15 and became a Bar Mitzvah a couple of years ago, hasn't yet even thought about what college he wants to go to, but he knows that he wants to go on a Birthright Israel trip with the Hillel from his college. Rebecca, who just turned 13, became a Bat Mitzvah at the beginning of April and Adam, who is 8 and goes to Schechter [Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley], did a prayer at her Bat Mitzvah. This is a tradition we're passing on, I'm delighted to say."
When asked about her purpose and goals as a philanthropist, Dr Harrison is just as clear.
"All the Jewish agencies that our community and every Jewish community support are important. But we all have limited funds. So, if you focus on particular interests, you can do more good than if you are more dispersed. I'm focused on the three pillars of Jewish continuity: Education, both the day schools and the congregational schools, Jewish camping, and Hillel. In their most significant formative years, 18 to 20 plus, our youth get their own sense of their Jewish identity and how they want to lead their future Jewish lives. I think Hillel is our final hest chance to work with our Jewish youth."
That orientation on the future of Judaism truly is at the heart of Dr Harrison's commitment.
"It isn't just about the Jewish generation that's going to be reading this article. By virtue of that fact, they already are demonstrating that they are committed to their Yiddischkeit. Our biggest challenge concerns what our children and grandchildren will shape as Jewish community life for the future. I can't conceive of my Jewish great-great-grandchildren and what their lives will be like. They may be attending a Hillel on a moon base. However, our Jewish morals, our Jewish values, and our Jewish ethics are universal, and we must see to it that they reach into the times to come."