Departing Executive Director leaves a legacy of elegance
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As your mind drifts from numbers and formulas in math class, you peer at the ceiling and notice numerous long, puffy pipes and suspended air vents hovering above you. Shifting your gaze towards the whiteboard walls, you ponder this industrial theme and wonder how it came to be.
The powerhouse woman who brought this into being, shepherding it from 2-D plans to literal reality, is Shalhevet’s Executive Director, Mrs. Robyn Lewis, who left Dec. 23 to become Executive Director of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. What she leaves behind is a legacy both visible and not.
“I am very proud of the way the building turned out,” said Mrs. Lewis, who in addition to managing large donations and daily finances, became on-site liaison with contractors, architect, and city government during the new building’s construction two years ago.
On the construction site, Mrs. Lewis could be seen in her trademark electric-pink hard hat, pouring over design papers, conferring with workers, or climbing in and out of the construction trailers on the then-dirt parking lot.
Once the building was finished, Mrs. Lewis — known to everyone as Robyn — chose everything from paint colors and furniture to the white papercut chandelier that hangs just at the entrance to the administrative suite beside the foyer.
“People are always going to be amazed at this building, because Robyn actually put it together,” said Registrar and Director of Facilities Mrs. Lili Einalhori. “The thing that Robyn brought to this place was a lot of class. With her decoration and her eye for color and taste, the school always looked stunning.”
In five years here, Mrs. Lewis became both the undeclared interior designer of the building and its caretaker, making sure the elevator walls were covered, adding to the landscaping, having the custodial staff constantly retouching the white walls, and deciding what could and could not grace its hallways. why the new building stands today looking the way it does.
When asked why the pipes are exposed, she explained an interesting concept: studies done show that open ceilings and exposed ducts trigger creativity and innovation in a workspace. Aside from that, Mrs. Lewis and the architect of the building, Chris Ward, both liked the modern industrial aesthetic.
Additionally, by leaving the beams open it wasn’t necessary to build such thick walls, which helped financially.
Managing the school budget was officially the main part of her job, and in that capacity she worked on everything from fundraising to managing the software and myriad accounts that the school uses to manage its budget.
“She was involved in jobs as small as fundraising for the alumni event to fundraising for the Poland Israel Trip,” said Mrs. Einalhori.
Head of school Rabbi Ari Segal said she had been particularly helpful in these areas.
“While her meticulous attention to detail in the construction is a huge part of her legacy, what we will miss most is Robyn’s quiet dedication to making sure that our teachers and administrators had the tools and resources to do what they do best,” Rabbi Segal wrote in an email.
Teachers said she had made it easy to manage financial details like event and trip planning.
“She was always supportive and trusting of me,” said history teacher Mr. Will Reusch, who manages several budgets and trips for the debate teams. “It was nice to feel trusted.”
But it’s the building that will be the most visible reminder of her tenure. When Mrs. Lewis arrived in 2012, her office was at the south end of the sprawling former convalescent hospital it inhabited for 15 years.
If she could change one thing in the building, Mrs. Lewis would make the Gill Beit Midrash bigger, and the grassy area outside it smaller. The only space in the school that can house the entire student body at once now is the gym, she said, and every time it is used for an event, carpet-tile flooring must be put down.
If the Beit Midrash were expanded, it would allow for the school to gather in one “holy” room, she said.
She said one of her favorite places in the new building is actually a hidden one — some colorful graffiti, without a specific message, that appeared one morning on one of the construction beams in what is now the small Beit Midrash above the windows. To preserve the holiness of the Beit Midrash, she said, it was covered up with drywall, but if it had been in an ordinary classroom she would have left it exposed.
Mrs. Lewis is going to greatly miss the students and faculty members at Shalhevet.
“When I heard student voices rising up through the stairwell it brought tears to my eyes,” she said.. “I was worried that the warmth of the other building wouldn’t be replicated, but it stayed here.”
Mrs. Lewis’s eldest son Josh is in ninth grade this year at Shalhevet, and her daughter Hannah is in eighth grade at Gindi Maimonides Academy along with her youngest son Jacob in fifth grade. Both children hope to attend Shalhevet as well.
“I am not leaving because I don’t love it here,” said Mrs. Lewis, “ There will always be a place in my heart for Shalhevet. Now I get to be a normal parent here, and become involved that way.”