Woman of Impact: Lisa Fishman

Our Woman of Impact profile features a local woman making a notable impact in our community. For this issue, we spoke with Lisa Fishman, a mainstay in Greater Hartford’s Jewish community for over 40 years. Lisa is a past recipient of the Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland award, recognizing a lifetime commitment to the Jewish world. She served as co-president of the New England Jewish Academy and was involved with Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford as a board member, fundraiser, and mother of a Schechter student. She is also a past chair of Women’s Philanthropy, followed by service on the national Women’s Philanthropy board of Jewish Federations of North America. Shortly after her second term as Women’s Philanthropy chair, Lisa helped establish the Howard J. Siegal Leadership Institute; she is herself a graduate of the Community Leadership Initiative, a 12-month leadership development program powered by Federation’s Jewish Leadership Academy. Both Lisa’s father and mother-in-law are survivors of Nazi atrocities, as are other members of her extended family. For several years, Lisa accompanied her mother-in-law, Ruth, as she spoke to middle- and high-school students about her experiences in the concentration camps. She and her husband, Peter, currently live in Farmington and have two adult sons, Garrett and Ari, and a grandson, Levi.

After years of service in Jewish organizations throughout Greater Hartford, what role does the Jewish community play in your life today?

I’ve been very fortunate that the community has lent itself to me — and I do mean it that way. Thanks to our community, I’ve had the opportunity to do so many amazing things. And then, about eight years ago, I took a step back, but October 7 has shifted my perspective. It’s not that I feel it’s more urgent to be involved, because it’s always been urgent. But October 7 instilled fear where I had once felt complacency. Yes, antisemitism was out there. And yes, we all knew who hated us. But it wasn’t a part of my everyday life like it is now. I wasn’t watching for it. All of this makes it feel like it’s the right time to get more involved again.


You’re a longstanding board member with Voices of Hope, and currently serve as secretary. How did you get involved with that organization?


I wasn’t involved when it was first founded by Alan Lazowski and a few others, but I came to it through my involvement with JFACT. At the time, Voices of Hope was a program under JFACT. Most organizations had some kind of fundraising dinner, and we were committed to raising money for Holocaust survivor programming. So, we had our first fundraiser, and a few years later Voices of Hope became its own entity and I joined the board. Since then, that organization has grown in leaps and bounds and has become a 501(c)(3). It has also grown in terms of the respect it receives from the community. Now we partner with Federation and Jewish Community Foundation, and it’s been wonderful to see it continue to grow.


I understand that several members of your own family are Holocaust survivors. How has that influenced your work?


My father, who is now 96, didn’t see himself as a survivor because he wasn’t in the camps. But he was nine years old when Kristallnacht happened in Germany, and his family had everything taken away. My grandfather was in the metal trade business; it was lucrative and he was good to his employees. After Kristallnacht, the family had to move out of their house — which was really a mansion — into a very small apartment, and one day several Nazis who used to work for my grandfather showed up to say, “They’re going to come for you.” But because they respected him, they came back in two days to help him escape to Italy. A few weeks later, they knocked on the family’s door again because the Nazis were now coming for children my father’s age — so at nine years old, he also escaped to Italy, where my grandfather was waiting for him. Eventually, his mother, younger brother, and older sister joined them in Italy, and they all came to New York together. They may have lost everything they had, but they were incredibly fortunate. My father never wanted to discuss his past, though, and that’s probably why I became so involved with my mother-in-law, Ruth, who is also a Holocaust survivor.


Your mother-in-law shared her experience in the camps with many middle- and high-school students — and you often joined her. What did you learn from observing those discussions?


One memory stands out. We were at a high school in a difficult neighborhood in Connecticut. She told the story of her father being transferred from the camp he and his family were in to Auschwitz. He went into the women’s barracks to say goodbye to his wife and daughter, and cried bitter tears. Unstoppable, bitter tears. He was saved at the last minute, but until then, he’d been inconsolable. 


At the end of the program, a young man approached us in the hallway and asked my mother-in-law if he could give her a hug. Then he said, “If you and your family could survive what you went through, I know I can survive what I’m going through.” Whatever he was experiencing in his life, what he heard gave him the power to say, ‘I can do this.’ It’s so important that young people learn about the Holocaust, but also about the resilience so many showed. That moment has always stuck with me. 


My sister-in-law wrote a book about [Ruth’s] experiences called “Tutti’s Promise.”


In addition to your years of volunteer work, you also chose to make an endowed gift as a Lion of Judah. How did you come to that decision?


My husband and I were already investing in the community, but we didn’t want to give just for right now — we wanted our investment to be there in the future for our kids and to ensure that Jewish life prospers for everyone. An endowment made that possible. Isn’t that we all want: for our children to have it better than we did, to have more than we had? 


As a Lion, I have my pin. And because of the endowment, it also has a flame on it. I love it and I wear it — but that’s not what defines me. What defines me is why I’m doing what I do. For me, it’s about securing the future for the next generation. Honestly, when I look back on the awards, the accomplishments, and the various roles I’ve been able to serve in, I’m reminded that it’s really about the collective. When we stay focused on our community as a whole, we thrive together.