As the pandemic began to rage in late March, upending lives and communities, the Carole and Marcus Weinstein Jewish Community Center in Richmond named Orly Lewis, C’99, its CEO. The first woman to hold the position, Lewis was promoted after 20 years of service to the JCC with the expectation that she would bring much-needed calm in the midst of an unprecedented storm.

“We’re an organization that encourages engagement, builds meaningful relationships guided by Jewish values, and welcomes people from all backgrounds, so we obviously felt the impact [of the pandemic] right away,” Lewis said. “But we immediately found new ways to continue to serve the community through online platforms such as virtual fitness classes and Friday Shabbat programs. Our members loved seeing one another, even virtually, and we were pleasantly surprised by how well we were able to maintain connections.”

Lewis joined the Weinstein JCC in 1998 after coming to Richmond in her early 20s from her native Israel. She said her human resources management degree enabled her to further acclimate to a new language and culture and launch her career.

“I was a working mother with four children, so the flexibility of night studies was invaluable,”
Lewis said of the School of Professional and Continuing Studies curriculum. “I received such positive encouragement and mentoring, which allowed me to get a quality education and have the confidence to pursue my passions.” The late Jean Proffitt and Patti Carey, former SPCS professors, were particularly helpful, she said.

Lewis intends to bring that same appetite for learning and generous mentorship to her new role. “I believe it’s important for leaders to ask not only how we will survive this challenge, but how we will grow from it, be transformed by it,” Lewis says. “We have the strength to envision a better future.”