Lucas Valley woman honored for uniting Marin Jews

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When Michelle Lerman first moved to Marin from Los Angeles, she feared the Jews there would lack a strong communal identity.

Soon proven wrong, Lerman didn’t waste a moment before delving into Jewish community life.

A Lucas Valley resident for only three years, Lerman has already forged a critical role, uniting Jewish families, women and even neighbors.

Upon her arrival, Lerman enrolled her children in San Rafael’s Brandeis Hillel Day School, where she founded and chaired the Jewish family education committee.

“This is a way to bring Jewish education to the parents,” she said. “The kids get Jewish education at school and the program gives the education to the parents. It helps Jewish ties within the family.”

She then joined the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation as president of the Marin Women’s Alliance. In this post, Lerman helps organize events to educate, enlighten and connect women. Last year, for instance, she organized a groundbreaking joint educational program between the Women’s Alliance and the women of Chabad of Marin, Nshei Chabad.

“That was the first time the federation and Chabad did an event together,” said Lerman, who was determined to further religious pluralism in Marin.

Lerman also extended her efforts to her Lucas Valley neighborhood, organizing a Chanukah party that drew more than 100 Jews.

“Everyone was so amazed that there were so many Jews in Lucas Valley,” she said. “It gave our neighborhood a sense of identity.”

An estate-planning lawyer, Lerman said she wants to give people a sense of “Jewish awareness. I want people to really feel their Jewish community.”

Lerman was honored for her efforts last week during “An Evening of Jewish Women.” Almost 100 women gathered as Lerman was presented with the first-ever Lamplighter Award by Nshei Chabad.

“Michelle is a woman who’s not only there for her family as a wife and a mom, but also there for her community,” said event coordinator Chana Scop, executive director of Nshei Chabad. “Between her work in the Jewish federation and with Chabad, she’s repeatedly helped bringing the Jewish community together as one.”

While grateful, Lerman says the award is merely a reflection of those around her.

“A few days before I got the award, somebody asked me, ‘What have you done for Chabad that they’re honoring you?'” said Lerman, who attends Chabad services and events at Chabad. “I didn’t know what else to say except, ‘It’s more about what Chabad has done for me.’ They’ve been an endless educational resource for my family. They’ve changed our lives. We’re very fortunate to have them as part of our Jewish community.”

Jewish community didn’t always play such an important role in Lerman’s life. She grew up in a Jewish home, but not a very observant one.

Once she became a mother herself, Lerman decided she would lead her children on a different, more observant path.

“Our heritage is so rich and so special,” Lerman said. “I think that we should remember and also rejoice in it.”

Lerman remembers a question posed by Rabbi Lavey Derby during a recent sermon at Congregation Kol Shofar, where she is also a member. The rabbi asked congregants, “How long would it take for a stranger to realize you’re Jewish?”

Pondering the question, Lerman said, “I think in [my family] you would know pretty quickly. Judaism plays a role in every facet of our lives.”

Aleza Goldsmith

Aleza Goldsmith is a former J. staff writer.