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UJA’s Chief, Annual Development, Celebrates a Major Milestone

Lisa Morrison left the U.S. 30 years ago and hasn’t looked back

By: Daniel Horowitz
Published: March 4th, 2013 in News » World
Lisa Morrison

After completing a double masters program at the Baltimore Institute for Jewish Communal Service that prepares students for careers as leaders in the Jewish community, Lisa Morrison decided it was time to leave her native U.S. and make the sojourn north.

And it didn’t take long for Morrison – a native of Akron, Ohio - to demonstrate her commitment to Jews around the world, and to her new home of Toronto.

In fact, Morrison, who came to Toronto in 1982 at the age of 24 to begin her career with UJA of Greater Toronto, didn’t let a little thing like not yet having her landed immigrant papers get in the way.

While waiting for the paperwork to come through, Morrison decided to use the free time constructively by visiting Refuseniks in the Soviet Union before spending two months on a kibbutz in Israel where she honed her Hebrew skills.

It’s that type of calm, compassionate and professional decision-making that has seen Morrison, Chief, Annual Development, ascend the UJA ranks quickly, in a career that recently passed the 30-year mark.

Morrison already knew a bit about Toronto, growing up with close family friends who lived there, and she had visited the city as part of a high school choir.

“I do think that the instinctive, natural and passionate Zionism in Toronto is stronger and more all encompassing than anywhere I've ever lived,” says Morrison who was never ambivalent about her Judaism. “In 1975 I was probably the only person in my high school who wore a pin that said, 'Zionism is a badge of honour,' after the UN had declared that Zionism was racism.”

But upon arriving in Toronto, she quickly found others who could relate to her passion for Jewish life.

“When I first moved here, what impressed me the most was how pervasive a strong Jewish identity was among so many of the people I met who were my age,” says Morrison. “As someone who had left home for university at 18, I was also shocked by how many people my age were still living at home. I came to realize that was also part of why so many young people here had such strong connections to Friday night dinners and holidays and family. I thought to myself, ‘what a haymisha, truly Jewish community I’ve come to.’”

The die was cast, and Lisa Morrison was a true Torontonian and she hasn’t looked back since.

“I felt like I had found an incredible gem and I didn’t want to move anywhere else,” explains Morrison. “I couldn’t imagine finding another community in the US which had so much Jewish soul and love of Israel as I had found here. I think there are more people here per capita working at living a Jewish life and giving their children a Jewish education than I would find in American cities today.”

Knowing how rare a community like Jewish Toronto is, Morrison hopes we never take it for granted.

“I am constantly telling people around me that they have no clue what they have in Toronto,” she says, her passion evident. “Jews who are born and raised here think that this is the way every Jewish community operates. I think sometimes that you have to come from elsewhere to truly appreciate the Jewish neshama of this Jewish community.”

And, in thirty years as a fundraiser in Toronto, Morrison, who has led some 30 UJA missions to Israel, has seen her share of changes in the city’s philanthropic landscape.

“There is huge competition for fundraising dollars in the Jewish community today that didn’t exist when I first arrived,” she explains. “The fact that UJA has to constantly explain and reinforce why it is different than other fundraising campaigns in this city is an uphill battle that is definitely worth fighting, but quite challenging. The older generation knew that UJA was dealing with the most important existential issues facing the Jewish people and while that continues to be our raison d’être, I think it’s harder for the younger generation to understand that, and relate to it, but I’m hopeful that they will.

"UJA Federation and the Toronto Jewish Community are blessed by the fact that Lisa's Jewish professional communal journey brought her here to build a life and a wonderful career," says Ted Sokolsky, President & CEO, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.

Related articles: UJA, Jewish, Annual development, Lisa Morrison, Milestone, Toronto, Zionism
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