Lisa Nagel (right) and her father Ken Asher.

HONORABLE MENSCHION: Lisa Nagel and Ken Asher

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HONORABLE MENSCHION: Lisa Nagel and Ken Asher

Lisa Nagel (right) and her father Ken Asher.

Lisa, you were raised by your parents, Ken and Gwen Asher in Old Greenwich, CT. What role did Judaism play in your upbringing?

When I was a toddler, my parents and a group of other reform families searched for the right spiritual home to raise their children. These families hired Rabbi Mark S. Golub (of blessed memory) to lead “Chavurat Deevray Torah,” founded in 1972 in Greenwich. My father was the first and only president for over 45 years. Rabbi Golub wrote the original prayer book and my dad built the ark for the Torah. On Friday nights, my dad would bring the ark, Torah and boxes of books to services. My dad would set up the arc, my sister and I would put books on every seat, and my mom would oversee the oneg table. My dad also created all of the mailings to chavurot members which I diligently tri-folded, stuffed into envelopes and applied address labels on a monthly basis. In addition to not having a building, Chavurah Deevray Torah never required dues. Our congregation was one of the first to offer this type of “pledge model” system of membership.

Watching my dad’s dedication to the Chavurah and his passion for both learning and teaching others about the Jewish tradition was so inspiring to me. He taught me to be proud of my Jewish roots and to embrace a Jewish way of life. I attended Sunday School and Hebrew School, and adult study sessions were held in different members’ homes. With the Chavurah, our family went on two mission trips to Israel where my sister and I each became a Bat Mitzvah on Masada.

How did you and your husband end up raising your family in Marblehead?

In the fall of 1999, my husband David and I decided to move to the North Shore of Massachusetts. We were moving from New York, so knowing pretty much nothing about the area, we were finding it difficult figuring out where we belonged. After looking at many houses in several different towns, we discovered that Marblehead had a Jewish Community Center.
When I told my dad, he said “move there – that is where you belong.” He grew up in a JCC and had always wished that my sister and I had had the same opportunity. My husband and I focused our search in Marblehead, found a wonderful home and shortly thereafter, joined the JCC as lifetime members.

What was your first connection to the Jewish community of the North Shore?

At the time we moved here, we were a young unaffiliated Jewish couple trying to find our way in town and our place in the world. We found our first group of friends at the JCC – they are our friends to this day. I had my first of many volunteer opportunities at the JCC. (Diane Knopf saw my membership application and roped me in early!) When I had my first child, I joined a Mommy and Baby group. All three of my children started in the JCC Prime Time Room and continued up through the JCC preschool. They all took classes at the J and attend the JCC summer camps.

I served on the Membership Committee, the Early Childhood Education Committee, and eventually the Board of Directors. My paternal grandfather had been president of a JCC in Newburgh, NY, the one my father grew up in, so I had two generations of Jewish leadership in my blood. In 2010, I was asked to serve as president during an extremely difficult time in the organization’s history and I felt it was beshert. My father served as a mentor to me during those turbulent years, and I am so grateful for his guidance.

How and why did you choose to join Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead?

Once we had our first child, my husband David and I wanted to join a synagogue, but we weren’t sure how to begin our pursuit. Having grown up in Chavurah Deevray Torah I was interested in pursuing a similar experience for our family. Where would I find a Reform congregation that felt connected like family … with a rabbi who sang and played music … one that offered opportunities for learning and leadership for both children and adults … and perhaps most importantly, one that we could afford to join. Temple Emanu-El checked all of the boxes for us, and temple life has served as an an integral part of our lives for the past 16 years, 16 years, with each of our children becoming a Bar/Bat Mizvah there. As with the JCC, leadership opportunities were offered at the temple and after several years on the board, I accepted the presidency of my congregation and served for two years – following in my father’s footsteps once again.

Ken, what has it been like to watch your daughter be a leader in this Jewish community?

Putting into words how proud my wife and I are of Lisa’s accomplishments as president of the JCCNS and Temple Emanu-El is very difficult. Watching her take the 100-year old JCCNS, put it on her shoulders for two years and refuse to let it close was quite remarkable in our eyes. In her honor, we made several donations to the “J” for a variety of programs as well as assistance to those families who needed financial help to enjoy the many programs offered at the J.

As president of Temple Emanu-El, we again contributed to assist with its financial needs. The bottom line – we felt blessed to have Lisa, as our daughter, and kvell over her wonderful and fulfilling accomplishments as a leader in the Marblehead Jewish community.

Lisa and Dave Nagel with their children Jacob (age 22), Lilah (age 17) and Ben (age 19).

Ken, you created the Asher Family Foundation which has made significant contributions to the JCCNS and Temple Emanu-El over the years. Why give to these organizations that you do not belong to?

Contributing to the Jewish community is why my wife and I created the Asher Family Foundation. It was the perfect vehicle for teaching my children and grandchildren how important it is to give back in support of Jewish organizations that have given our family so much. As Lisa noted, Rabbi Mark S. Golub (of blessed memory) nourished our Jewish souls and inspired us to help strengthen the Jewish community  in as many ways as imaginable. Although we were never members, giving financially to the JCCNS and Temple Emanu-El where Lisa and her family have given and received so much made it easy for our foundation to provide both with financial support.

Lisa, what is the greatest lesson your father taught you?

The significance of “From generation to generation” and the importance of tzedakah within the Jewish tradition.

It is important to remember that there were those that gave before us to make sure Jewish organizations and places of worship were here for our families, and therefore so we must do the same today for the next generation.

Every Thanksgiving my father calls a special family meeting – the first of which was held in 1998. My father had created the Asher Family Foundation so that we could personally decide and direct contributions to charities of our choice. What a gift he had given to our family! My parents made sure we understood that the practice of tzedakah is a part of who we are as Jews and an essential part of how we live our lives.

My sister and I have 7 children between us and they each come to Thanksgiving prepared with a charity of their choice. Each child meets with my dad to discuss their charity and the amount they would like to have contributed in their names. Each one comes out of his office with so much pride and a full heart. The foundation is one of the best gifts my father could have given our family. It keeps us bonded to one another, keeps us connected to our Jewish heritage and the mission of tzedakah, and it gives us an ongoing means of supporting people and organizations in need.

Lisa, can you tell us a little about your family.

My husband Dave and I met at Bucknell University in the fall of 1989, my freshman year of college. We started dating a few months later and have spent our entire adult lives together. On March 18, we will have been a couple for 34 years (married for 29 of those years)!

Professionally, Dave has spent the last 32 years in marketing and advertising. He was employed by Dunkin’ Brands for 18 years working on Baskin Robbins and now he serves as senior director of marketing at the Boston Society for Architecture. He also has his own photography business – outerbostonia photography.

After college, I worked in the non-profit sector while completing my master’s degree in Community Counseling at Fairfield University. I worked as a therapist for a short time before having my first child in 2001. I was a stay-at-home mom and full-time volunteer in the community for many years until I became a gymnastics coach at Burke’s Tumbling Academy about 7 years ago. I love teaching toddlers, tweens, teens and adults how to hop, skip, jump, swing, flip and roll!

We are blessed with three wonderful children: Jacob (age 22), Ben (age 19) and Lilah (age 17). Our family is complete with our lovable dog, Kylie.

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