Lisa Lis

by Vivian Henoch

Describing her occupation as “full-time professional volunteer,” Lisa Lis has a long track record of service to the community on behalf of a wide range of agencies and causes in Metro Detroit and in Israel.

“It’s all about family,” she believes,  “As Jews we are one family, from Hastings Street to Orchard Lake Road, from the Downtown Synagogue to The Shul, from Hillel Day School preschoolers to Wayne State University Hillel’s college students, from the JCC’s Pitt Center babies to Hechtman’s elderly,  we are One Family.” As the newly elected President of Federation’s Women’s Department, Lisa brings together her vision, connections and passion for Jewish Detroit along with her considerable networking and organizational skills.

With Israel-born husband Hannan, Lisa makes her home in both Farmington Hills and in Haifa. The Lis’s are the parents of four children; Ariella Lis Raviv (married to Tzvi and living in Highland Park, N.J.); Liat of Eugene, Oregon;  and sons, Mataan (a sophomore at U of M)  and Aviv (a sophomore at the Frankel Jewish Academy).

On community involvement

Lisa Lis

MyJewishDetroit: Lisa, you could describe your full-time occupation as an “occupassion” for family, Judaism, Israel and the health of the Detroit community. How has your family history growing up in Detroit influenced the paths you’ve taken as a community volunteer and leader?

Lisa: I was born at Sinai Hospital (as well as all 4 of our children) and grew up in Palmer Woods till 1969 when we moved to Farmington Hills.  I was fortunate to grow up in a typical suburban home with summer camp and schoolwork occupying most of my time, though with little involvement in our local or Jewish community. My involvement started after my MSU student visit to Israel where I met my husband, Hannan.  We both became active in Young Adult Division with Hannan eventually becoming President. My mother is also active in many civic, communal and Jewish causes and it is a bonus when we get to work together on issues dear to our hearts.

MyJewishDetroit: The committees, missions to Israel and boards on which you have served over the years are too numerous to list here.  How has your involvement with the Jewish Federation, the Jewish Women’s Foundation, and organizations such as JVS, Tamarack Camps, BBYO, Hillel Day School, Gleaners Community Food Bank and Alyn Hospital in Israel shaped your leadership and vision as the current President of Federation’s Women’s Department?

Lisa: My mission as Women’s Department President is to outreach, educate and instill the love of community to as many women as possible. We are one family from all spectrums of our Metro Detroit neighborhoods, responsible for each other during good times and bad.  We have a natural instinct to connect with others, help one another and see each other succeed.  Studies have shown that doing good, feels good.  Providing opportunities to help people feel good while assisting those in our “family” who need help is Philanthropy Matchmaking (or Shidduch Mitzvot).  There are about 67,000 Jews in our community.  We are shrinking, yet close-knit, very generous and, quite frankly, envied among other Jewish Communities of our nation.  I love being a Horn-Tooter for our Community and encourage others to learn, engage and toot their our horns.

On missions to Israel

MyJewishDetroit: You recently have returned from Israel having led Federation’s third Mosaic Mission for Women. Please share your perspective on what made this particular journey different from the many missions you’ve led and trips you’ve taken to Israel in the past.

Lisa: I love Israel. My first visit 33 years ago literally changed my life.  Since then, I’ve been traveling there yearly (and multi-yearly). We’ve schlepped four kids there throughout their growing years to visit family and friends.  We chaired and participated on many missions, both for family and just adults.

However, this last Women’s Mosaic Mission was the first time I had been to Israel without my husband.  As much as I love Israel, I also love missions.  This one was no exception.  It was wonderful to see Israel through the eyes of the many first timers as well as the women who hadn’t been there in decades.

Israel is a rapidly changing, innovative and progressive society with our Jewish Biblical history dating back thousands of years.  Noami, our tour guide, gracefully and deliciously lead us on a collective journey through our homeland educating and inspiring our love along the way, and connecting us back to our local Federation efforts in Israel.  With only women, the opportunity to bond is stronger and we took full advantage, as we are all, now, good friends.

If you have never been to Israel, I highly recommend joining a mission either through Federation or your local synagogue.  They are well worth the effort and the easiest, most enjoyable way to see our beautiful homeland.

Lisa Lis
Lisa breaks for challah, her Friday morning routine at the Dakota Bread Company.

On Shabbat

MyJewishDetroit:  As friends and family know, Shabbat is your passion and Friday nights are a sacred family tradition, one that’s grown through the years.  In fact, you’ve enhanced your Shabbat ritual by sending a Shabbat Shalom “shout-out” to friends and family in the form of a weekly email newsletter, often featuring celebrity greetings on video.  Tell us, what inspired you to start that newsletter and what plans might you have to “institute” it as a community tradition.

Lisa: Back in the 80s when my husband and I were active in Federation’s Young Adult Division, Rabbi Irwin Kula spoke to us about the importance of Shabbat, stating it was even more significant than Yom Kippur.  By then, we had already made a commitment with our best friends to rotate Shabbat dinners with them each week (a tradition we have been keeping for close to 30 years).  Through those years we’ve added Shabbat traditions, with Dakota Challah being one of our favorites.  Each Friday I enjoy picking up the bread and wishing friends I see there Shabbat Shalom.  In Israel, everyone greets you this way on Fridays.

After our last son’s Bar Mitzvah, I wanted to continue this Shabbat greeting and keep in touch with friends and family who came in from out of town, so I started sending brief Shabbat Shalom emails to them.  As time went on, I expanded the list to include both in and out-of-town friends and family.

Also, whenever I’m in the presence of a VIP, I ask if I can record them saying Shabbat Shalom so I can include them in my weekly emails.  I have taped many gracious greeters like James Taylor, Carol King, President Barack Obama, Marvin Hamlisch (of blessed memory) and Paul Simon.  I enjoy when my emails get forwarded and am touched when people asked to be put on the list, which has grown to 580 people.  I plan to continue this tradition till my fingers can no longer type (which I hope is many decades from now).

On Detroit

MyJewishDetroit:  As a fervent Detroit-booster, what do you think makes Detroit a great place to live, work and play?

Lisa:  Belle Isle, The Riverfront, The Dequindre Cut, Eastern Market, Sports, Theatre, Music, The History, Motown, Food, The DIA, urban gardens, charity work … There are so many assets of our City with old ones being renovated and new ones popping up everyday.

MyJewishDetroit:  What do you tell people considering moving back to Detroit or into the city for the first time?

Lisa:  There is a effervescence to Detroit based on its vibrant past, during its glory years of the 40s and 50s, through its turbulent years of the 60s and 70s, and the transition it’s undergoing today. Detroit is a resilient city with a soul that gets under your skin and a dedication and pride that seem unique. This is a great time to live in Detroit as so many supporters have focused their time and energy to help it continue to evolve and prosper.  I’m always thrilled to hear of ex-Detroiters moving back home and especially of young Detroiters moving downtown. I hope this trend continues and Detroit becomes a vibrant city with excellent schools, grocery stores, shops and small businesses so young families also can feel the pull of the city.

Lisa Lis


Restaurant: Inn Seasons in Royal Oak, great vegetarian restaurant

Hangout for coffee:  Our kitchen table on Sunday morning with the Free Press, New York Times and NPR on the radio. It’s always a bonus when it’s filled with our kids when they are home for a visit.

Building in the Detroit skyline:  There is a special spot on Northwestern Highway (heading south) at the light just before 13 Mile Road. where you can see the Ren Cen and the Detroit Skyline.  We love to catch that glimpse of the city whenever the weather is clear.

Place to take kids:  The Henry Ford with the IMAX Theater and Greenfield Village (during the nice weathered months).  There is so much to see, do, eat, learn and discover there.

Jewish Food: Gefilte Fish.  I like it sweet like my grandmother used to make, with lots of horseradish.

Jewish Expression: May you grow like an onion with your head in the ground and your feet in the air.  Vaksn zolstu vi a tsibele mitn kp in dr’ed… I don’t know why I love this curse, though I think it was because my mother-in-law introduced it to me many years ago though she was not cursing me at the time.  There is nothing like the Yiddish language; I truly hope it survives for many millenniums to come.

Hebrew Expression:  Shabbat Shalom

Reading Now

One Last Thing Before I Go, by Jonathan Tropper.  I love his humor and poignant messages in all of his books.  He is one of my favorite authors.