Five generations of philanthropic Lions of Judah

Five generations of philanthropic Lions of Judah

Sep 26, 2023

When Julie Schlafer pulled her daughter-in-law Carly aside on a clear Aspen August morning and said to her, “I think you should become a Lion today,” it may have seemed like a spur-of-the-moment decision, but it was generations in the making.

Julie had offered her Aspen home to host a JEWISHcolorado-sponsored gathering of women philanthropists from Colorado and around the country, many of them Lions of Judah. The Lion of Judah pin, often worn as a necklace, is a symbol of a Jewish woman’s membership in an international sisterhood of global activists who make a significant commitment of time and financial resources to preserve Jewish life now and in the future.

Henrietta Weisberg

Henrietta Weisberg

Carly was in charge of thanking the group of women for coming and leading them through a series of introductions. When it came time for her to speak, she announced that today, she would officially become a Lion. Her mother-in-law left the room just long enough to bring back a photo of her mother, Henrietta Weisberg, wearing her Lion pin in her hometown of Detroit.By the end of the day, Carly’s daughter Hannah—who is named after her great-grandmother Henrietta—was happily settled in the arms of her grandmother, investigating the Lion hanging around her neck. It was a L’dor V’dor Lion moment, with four generations—Henrietta, Julie, Carly, and Hannah—all connected by the symbolic Lion, a scene that would have pleased Henrietta, who, with her sister Rachel, survived the Warsaw ghetto, three concentration camps, and the death march during the Holocaust.

“My mother loved Carly, and she would be so happy that her losses in childhood would not be forgotten in the next generation of Carly’s children,” Julie says. “Her memory and the legacy of being a Lion will live on through Hannah.”

The Schlafer women’s philanthropy goes back even further, if you can imagine.

“My grandmother, Clara Weisberg, was also a Lion when the Detroit Federation first began having Lions,” Julie says. “So I am a third generation woman philanthropist, Carly is fourth generation, and Hannah, God willing, will be fifth. The names may be different, but the bloodline is there.”

Julie’s Lion story

How Julie came to have not one, but two Lion pins is really a story of geography that starts in Detroit in the 1970s. She remembers her mother wearing her pin on high holidays to the synagogue. It reflected her family’s values which had started with her father’s parents who had emphasized the importance of tzedakah.

“In our family, it was a given that you needed to be active in the community and philanthropic to the best of your ability,” she says. “Why? Because we are so fortunate.”

Julie became a Lion in the early 2000s, her pin a gift from a close friend. That was nearly 25 years ago, and she eventually endowed the pin with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, establishing a charitable gift of at least $100,000 to provide ongoing support of the Federation and causes it supports.

In 2009, her family moved permanently to Aspen and one of the first things she did was find leaders of the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) in the Roaring Fork Valley, the closest organization she could find to a federation in Aspen. She started going to events in the Valley and realized that there were ways she could get involved Jewishly.

“There are a lot of full-time people in the valley who have needs,” she says. “Not everyone is wealthy. I am passionate about Jewish education and Holocaust education and my Judaism in general, so part of moving to Aspen and joining the community was getting involved philanthropically.”

To that end, Julie decided she wanted a pin to represent her involvement in her new community. That is how she came to have a second Lion pin, this one endowed with JEWISHcolorado.

“I think that women are empathetic and sympathetic,” she says. “It is in our DNA to be nurturers and givers to people in need. The reality is, it feels a thousand times better to give than to receive.”

Carly’s Lion story

Talk to Carly Schlafer about her daily life and you might wonder when she has time to breathe. She is on the Board of Directors of JEWISHcolorado, she is on the Women’s Philanthropy Committee, and she has also served as the Chair of the JEWISHcolorado Young Adult Division (YAD). She just finished her Master of Science in Environmental Policy and Management, a degree delayed only slightly by the time she took off to have twins. Now she is volunteering for Colorado Jewish Climate Action (CJCA) and raising three young children. She also just received the JEWISHcolorado Charlotte B. Tucker Young Leadership Award recognizing a young person who has demonstrated significant leadership ability and a strong commitment to the Jewish community and the Federation. If it sounds like she is busy, she is.“I thrive on it,” she says, with a laugh. “I am a Jewish woman.”

Carly Schlafer and familyBorn and raised in Milwaukee, Carly comes from what she calls “an extremely Jewish background.” In her public high school, she took Hebrew as a second language. Her family hosted a shinshin when she was in high school and on a BBYO trip, she visited the shinshin’s family in Israel. During her senior year at George Washington University, she met Brad Schlafer on spring break, and their relationship blossomed quickly based on similar values and upbringing.

“It was around Passover and Brad called his mom and said, ‘I’m not coming home for Passover this year,’” Schlafer recalls. “And his mother said to him, ‘Who is she?’”

After college, she worked as a Jewish communal professional. When the family moved to Denver, they started looking for a Jewish home where they could put down roots and make friends. They found it at JEWISHcolorado with a YAD Shabbat.

She took over as chair of YAD in the summer of 2020, just as the pandemic was upending the world.

“We had to pivot from what we usually did and take all our programming for young families and single people virtual,” she says. “We were forced to think outside the box, and we learned a lot of lessons, some of which are still applicable today and others we are happy to leave in the past.”

After the 2020 Colorado wildfires, Carly returned to graduate school, inspired by a desire to take action in the field of climate change. That has led to her work with the CJCA and a future career working in corporate sustainability.

“What excites me about this work is the intersection of the values of Judaism and climate change solutions,” she says. “It combines my two passions.”

Baking with Bubbe

For Carly, who is already a member of the Ben Gurion Society and the Pomegranate Society, it was never a question of if she would become a Lion—it was always when she became a Lion. And when it happened, it felt special to her.

“It is amazing to be embraced by a family like the Schlafers,” she says. “The Lion tradition was not just passed from mother to daughter—but from a mother-in-law to a daughter-in-law. It feels special to be included like that.”

And sometimes, it’s like daughter, like mother. Carly’s mother recently became a Lion in Milwaukee.

As for Julie, she modestly downplays her role in the Lion legacy of her family, saying she is “unimportant in this story.” She remains deeply involved in her local community, currently with an informal program she calls “Baking with Bubbe.” Students from the Jewish congregation come to her house and learn to make traditional Jewish foods.

Julie Schlafer and Hannah“I want these kids to have a sense of Jewish identity, and that can come through food,” she says. “Their parents may not know me, but when the kids see me in a grocery store or at a restaurant, they call out, ‘Hi, Bubbe.’”

Carly is already feeling the networking benefits of becoming a Lion, an experience that she hopes will someday be carried by her daughter.

“My hope is that Hannah feels a huge connection to Jewish life,” she says. “And I hope that connection encourages her to get involved and also give back to the community that has given so much to us.”