Six Questions with Orly Lewis
In The Last Word, we sit down with an industry expert to share their wealth of knowledge. This issue, the conversation features Orly Lewis, the CEO of the Weinstein JCC in Henrico County, Virginia.
1. How did you get started in the community recreation industry?
I was walking in the hallway of our Jewish Community Center with my three young children at the time. I was talking to the executive director and he asked if I would be interested in helping the JCC absorb 750 Jewish refugees from the Former Soviet Union. I was intrigued by the proposal and began working part-time. As time went on, I assumed more responsibilities, including recreation.
2. What’s been a key to your organization’s success? What are you most proud of?
We have a dedicated and passionate team of staff and leadership. It is this strong partnership over the years that I believe is the key to our organization’s ongoing success. I am most proud of our mission, our values and the way we are serving our community. People have made many lifelong connections at the Weinstein JCC.
3. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?
I want to go back to when I started my career and helped resettle hundreds of refugees. I was part of a small staff team and many volunteers who helped families build a new life in America. We helped them secure employment, taught them English, furnished their apartments and embraced them as family. I feel that was a historic time, and I was part of it.
4. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
Becoming a CEO during a global pandemic meant the first three months in my position I was faced with making crucial programmatic and financial decisions virtually. That was the most challenging thing — not being able to be with my team during a crisis. The next challenge was to figure out the safest way to reopen our building, restore our programs and continue to serve our community.
5. What is one lesson you have learned that other community recreation professionals can learn from?
There is a verse in “Ethics of our Fathers” that says the following: “Who is wise — the one who learns from everyone.” I have learned so much from others who enabled me to be a better professional and person. The simplest and greatest ideas usually come from unexpected places. So we must stay connected, visible and curious.
6. Tell us one fact about yourself others may not know.
I am from Israel and grew up in Beer Sheva, a city in the south of Israel.
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