Lois Lautenberg of West Orange, whose philanthropy and activism on behalf of Israel and Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ impacted many lives, died May 30, 2020, at the age of 88.
“Lois was a role model and inspiration to all who knew her,” said Dov Ben-Shimon, federation’s executive vice president/CEO, in a Facebook post. “She was instrumental in making so much happen in Greater MetroWest — locally, in Israel, and around the world.”
Lautenberg held leadership roles in almost every federation agency over a span of 50 years. She was a past campaign chair and president of Women’s Philanthropy, a lifetime member of its board, and a longtime member of federation’s board of trustees. As chair emeritus of the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest NJ, she was devoted to Holocaust education and remembrance as the means of achieving “Never Again.”
“She had charm, grace, and elegance,” said Sylvia Cohn, a friend of Lautenberg for 50 years. “Lois’ support of federation was deep and genuine, but she was always humble about what she was able to do for the community…. Lois had a remarkably good sense of humor and the rare ability to be a very good friend. When I look back, I see how much history Lois and her family and my family shared together. I’ll miss her enormously.”
Lautenberg was a strong supporter of the United Jewish Appeal annual campaign and raised money for it until her death. According to those who knew her, she loved being a Lion of Judah and believed in the legacy of endowing a Perpetual Annual Campaign gift to ensure a strong and vibrant Jewish future. The Lautenberg name is on buildings, meeting rooms, and hallways in places supported by the Greater MetroWest community around the globe.
Lautenberg also held leadership positions at JCC MetroWest in West Orange, State of Israel Bonds, JESPY House, Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled, and the Sister Rose Thering Fund for Education in Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University.
Barbara Drench, chair of the New Century Fund, part of federation’s Centennial Campaign, and a past Women’s Philanthropy president and campaign chair, met Lautenberg at the JCC MetroWest in the late 1970s.
“Lois was a woman ahead of her time in a lot of ways,” said Drench. “She saw a bigger picture and wasn’t afraid to act on it. She dared to make a difference, step up, and say ‘yes.’
“‘No’ was not part of her vocabulary. She was an icon and a role model for literally generations of community members.”
Lautenberg was the recipient of numerous honors, including the prestigious Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award presented by National Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federations of North America. The award recognizes women who have set a high standard for philanthropy through volunteerism and financial commitment in their individual communities.
Lautenberg’s passion for the local Jewish community was matched by her love of Israel and her commitment to building enduring relationships with the Jewish state. She was the first chair of Project Renewal, a program dedicated to developing and nurturing the connection between the neighborhood of Ramat Eliahu in Rishon Lezion and Greater MetroWest, and was a frequent visitor to Israel.
“Lois will always be remembered in Israel as the ‘first lady’ of Ramat Eliahu,” said Amir Shacham, associate executive vice president, Global Connections, at Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, who is based in the federation’s Israel office. “Her generosity in establishing this Greater MetroWest first partnership and her continuous involvement will stay with us forever.” A namesake park marks the entrance to the neighborhood now known as Neve Eliahu.
Among many other projects, Lautenberg supported the creation of the ISHA Center, a safe place for women and at-risk girls in Ofakim, Israel. In addition, she traveled around the world on missions, learning firsthand about the work of federation.
Other Jewish causes supported by Lautenberg included Hadassah, National Council of Jewish Women, ORT America, and her synagogue, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange. Her volunteerism and support extended to the Newark Museum and the Montclair Art Museum.
For all of her visibility as a community leader, Lautenberg’s children and grandchildren were the center of her life. The children recalled Lois as a loving mother fiercely devoted to protecting and caring for them and continuing to remain an integral part of their lives as adults.
In a family statement, her children highlighted her generosity of spirit and support of her Jewish community.
It read in part, “Each of us leaves a mark that is ours only. It can’t be copied. It can’t be replaced. There was only one Lois Lautenberg. There will never be another.”
Lautenberg is survived by three daughters, Ellen Lautenberg Hendel (Douglas) of Westport, Conn., Nan Lautenberg Morgart of Newport, R.I., and Lisa Lautenberg Birer (Douglas) of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; her son, Josh (Christina) of Edwards, Colo.; and 10 grandchildren.
A service was held June 1 with arrangements by Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapel, Livingston. Memorial contributions may be made to a fund in Lautenberg’s name at Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.