[Archived from October 23, 2009]
by Shiela Steinman Wallace
“This is an incredibly exciting time in the Jewish Community of Louisville,” said Todd Blue, chair of the 2010 Annual Campaign as he announced that Lior Yaron has agreed to join him as Campaign co-chair.
“Lior feels inspired, reengaged and ready to participate and help lead this very special Campaign,” Blue continued. “I can think of no greater person to help us accomplish success this year.”
Yaron served as Campaign co-chair in 2004 and was the Central Area Consortium chair for Partnership with Israel. An active, passionate, hands-on leader, he was fully engaged in our Louisville Jewish community until three and a half years ago.
“On March 1, 2006, LSY International [Yaron’s company] acquired the direct distribution operation of GE appliances for Western Europe,” he explained, and his business obligations then forced him to spend much of the next three and a half years in Europe and Israel.
“It was a great sacrifice for my family, and especially for my wife, Heather,” Yaron explained. Leaving the comforts and the “great Jewish life” he enjoyed in Louisville, Yaron spent 70 percent of his time “living as a wandering Jew, spending many Shabatot without a synagogue to go to or a Jewish community” with which he could enjoy a kosher meal “or a Jewish cultural center like the Jewish Community Center.”
Yaron continued that he also missed visiting his father at Four Courts and taking him to services.
He recalls that he was in Belgium for Yom Kippur in 2007. “I went to Knoke, a coastal town where many of the Jewish people from Brussels and Antwerp enjoy summer houses. There were only 18 people in the synagogue where I prayed. It was in a house, and since it was Orthodox, they made an opening in the ceiling so the women, who were sitting upstairs, could hear the sounds of the Torah reader and the service, there was no hazzan and no rabbi.
“What a difference from my own Adath Jeshurun with the touching voice of Cantor Lipp and the thought-provoking sermon of Rabbi Slosberg,” he added. During those times while Yaron felt lonely and alone, he realized “a deep sense of appreciation for what we achieved and what we have in Louisville as a Jewish community.
“Sometimes, we don’t appreciate what we have,” Yaron observed, until we no longer have it. His time in Europe and Israel gave him a unique perspective on the Louisville Jewish community. “It taught me how fortunate my family and I are in this community,” he said.
Today, the demands on his time are changing. He expects to spend no more than 10 days a month abroad going forward, and is now ready “to reconnect to my Jewish community with an even stronger sense of loyalty commitment, working to ensure a Jewish future for generations to come in Louisville.”
Time, however, does not stand still, and the Louisville Jewish community has changed dramatically. “I’m coming to a community that is just now in the process of tackling the challenges of merging two Jewish institutions into one breathing organism of Jewish life. I see great positives in front of us; however, I also see signs of danger that have to be addressed on an immediate basis. This is a wake up call to the community.”
Looking at the Jewish Community of Louisville, Yaron explains, “I’m trying to get a clear vision of where we are going to be five years from now – what are the timelines and the roadmap that the newly merged Jewish Community of Louisville is going to achieve?”
He is disturbed with what he finds. “At this point, I am seeing an organization that is concentrating more on structure and bylaws than Jewish content and vision. It is my opinion,” he stated forcefully, “that a strong and committed leadership is critical to accelerating change.
“Leadership impacts all other change processes,” he continued. “Leaders must play a varied role. Leaders have to be rooted deeply in their Jewish heritage and be spiritually connected. Our leaders must have the willingness to take personal initiative and challenge the status quo. The success of our change initiative requires strong, committed leadership throughout the entire project.”
Yaron feels the difficulties and challenges he experienced transforming his business in Western Europe and Israel in the last three and a half years have prepared him to assume a leadership role now at the JCL.
That time “was the greatest commercial challenge I have ever faced in my life,” he explained. “I inherited a structure of 120 people who became my employees with organizational backgrounds in one of the world largest corporations, General Electric. I had to transform the mission, the vision and the culture in order to secure the continued distribution of GE appliances in Western Europe.”
To accomplish this goal, Yaron had to merge organizations in eight countries into a centralized organization, addressing issues arising from different languages, cultures and work ethics. “It required bold leadership, great deal of courage and a clear sense of vision to achieve this goal. I succeeded in turning around the former DDO (Direct Distribution Operation) of General Electric into more efficient, elastic and innovative company. I passed through hell; however, with conviction and determination the sky is the limit.
Yaron sees many parallels at the Jewish Community of Louisville. We have the merger of two institutions, the Jewish Community Federation and the Jewish Community Center, and their two Boards, and there is a lot of history between them. For this merger to succeed, we have to answer the wake up call, maximize the goodwill between the two organizations and minimize the divisiveness.
Yaron called on the past leaders of both predecessor organizations to step up to meet the challenges by truly coming together to work for our future. This means setting aside past differences.
Each organization had strong and effective leaders who build their institutions to meet the specific needs as they saw them. It is not a secret that some distrust existed between the two Boards and denigrating words were said.
“The time is now,” Yaron says. “The time has arrived to rise above what separates us and let the scars of yesterday heal. We are one community, and we can’t let the past haunts us. In order to succeed in our mission, we need to be united and focused on achieving the goal of ensuring the continuation of Jewish life in Louisville, KY.
“We have to secure the strength of our JCL,” he continued, “so the generations to come will not point a finger at us and accuse us in failure. This is our moral call – our inherent obligation as Jews. To secure the future of the Jewish community of Louisville is our to be or not to be question.”
“Some past leaders have cut their pledges; others are talking about reducing their gifts. In the short time I am back in Louisville,” he said, “I have been asking ‘why?’ The answers I receive are: ‘it is a sign of disenchantment with the present situation;’ or ‘it is our voice that we are not content with what we find or what we see.’
“Punishing our new Jewish Community of Louisville for whatever happened in the past is simply not an option,” Yaron stated. “It is not the correct answer. The community is not at fault; Jewish life has not changed, the needs of the community have not been reduced. On the contrary, our needs today are even more pressing.
“In these unforgiving times,” he continued, “we must be true to our own destiny as Jews and pledge ourselves to new levels in our spiritual and monetary commitment. In this most difficult financial time, our support should demonstrate our unshaken commitment to the generation to come who would like to live Jewish life in Louisville.”
“This urgent shared need is a wake-up call for our community that we must use to build momentum for the change initiative and the vision we will bring to our community,” Yaron stressed. “This vision will provide the direction and motivation for change.”
“We will raise the funds we need for our Jewish community to succeed – for ourselves today, for our children and for our grandchildren,” he stated. “We have no other choice. We must immediately answer the questions: Where we will be five years from now? What is the relevance of our Jewish institution today? How will we increase the Jewish awareness of the community? Can we bring more Jewish programs to our community”
“Our leadership should be rooted in knowledge of Jewish life,” he continued. “It is up to each of us and every one of us to face the present with an open heart and mind. We have the power to make a difference.”
Yaron was born in Israel, but has lived in Louisville for many years. His passion for Israel led him to become involved with the Jewish Community Federation through Partnership 2000 (now Partnership with Israel), a program which fosters individual connections between Israelis in the Western Galilee and Americans living in the cities of the Central Area Consortium, including Louisville. Yaron served a term as chair of the Consortium. He also chaired the 2004 Annual Campaign, and has served as a member of the Board and Executive Committee of the Jewish Federation.
Professionally, Yaron founded LSY International, a company that markets GE and Sony appliances with European voltage standards in the United States to the families of foreign nationals who are returning to their countries of origin. By purchasing the appliances here, these individuals can often avoid paying the heavy duties other governments impose on the same items purchased overseas. In 2006, he added the Western European distribution of GE products to his business portfolio.
In 1997, Yaron was Business First’s Entrepreneur of the Year, and in 1998, he was named Kentucky’s Small Business Person of the Year and was honored in Washington, D.C. during National Small Business Week. In May 2008, Yaron received the MOSAIC Award from Jewish Family & Career Services in recognition of the community-changing difference he, as an immigrant, has made to Louisville.
Yaron regards his wife, Heather, as a team member in his volunteer activity in the Jewish community. She has also been a very active volunteer and has served as a JCC Board member and secretary, as well as many committees. Professionally, she owns and operates Meridian Café.
The Yarons have two sons, David and Daniel, and they are members of Congregation Adath Jeshurun.