Robin Gordon Retires after 30 Years as Director of ASPNI

By Jay Shofet, Director of Partnerships and Development

To thousands of supporters in North America of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, Robin Gordon has been the face, voice, and email address of the organization for three decades. To those of us in Israel who have worked with her, she has been the bedrock of our activities in the US, a source of information, wisdom, experience, and helpfulness in our daily work.

Robin was the nexus upon which the American Society for the Protection of Nature turned: she was the connector of American supporters to the organization in Israel and connected my staff, my CEO, and I – and the generations that preceded us, back to the early ‘90’s – to our American board and donors.

Robin led the organization and kept it running smoothly year after year, decade after decade, donor after donor. “It has been a great job,” said Robin this past month, who had trained as a nurse and once enjoyed private duty nursing. “I consider the job as doing ‘private duty’ on an organization, ensuring all issues, large and small, are addressed”.

Robin was an environmental activist and a staff nurse when a friend who was Vice President of the New York Audubon Society invited her to a conference in Eilat celebrating SPNI’s 40th anniversary in 1993. There she met then-SPNI CEO Yossi Leshem, his deputy Yoav Sagi, and two gentlemen who had recently founded SPNI’s American affiliate in New York, Russell Rothman, and Ed Geffner.

Robin considered the conference “magical”, recalling with wonder watching the raptor migration with the Dalai Lama in attendance, hearing a Paul Winter concert on a Sinai mountaintop, and her first-ever Passover seder at the home of Yossi and Rivka Leshem. She also recalls that Yossi had the first mobile cell phone she’d ever seen, the size of a small suitcase, and he was always talking excitedly on it!

Back in New York, Robin was hired to run the operation and offered to run the organization out of her home in Great Neck, Long Island, to save money and hassle. She made some office upgrades, installed a roll-over phone line, and mailed out brochures of SPNI hikes to those who called. Robin recollects that “each phone call taught me more about SPNI and its supporters. People love to reminisce about their prior trips.” Robin has probably spoken on the phone to thousands of supporters over the years, doling out advice on donations and travel to Israel, and mailing brochures, posters, and calendars to educate a class or support a bat mitzvah project.

Robin opened her home to visiting SPNI personnel, and hosted there Yossi Leshem, former CEO Gershon Peleg, and Avishag and Amotz Zahavi, SPNI co-founder, who had to borrow a suit from Robin’s long-time partner Warren Mintz to attend a banquet thrown in his honor by ASPNI Chair Leon Sokol! In recent years, Robin hosted current SPNI CEO Iris Hann, and I can personally testify that they both had a special time together; Iris often speaks of Robin’s warm hospitality and warm muffins.

Highlights of Her Tenure

When asked about the highlights of her tenure, Robin recalls receiving several phone calls that led to long conversations and major support for SPNI. She also reminisces about several memorable trips to Israel, meeting SPNI staff throughout Israel, bonding with U.S. board members, and generally raving about the “great wildlife, great food, and the Negev’s unforgettably dramatic geography”.

Robin wasn’t content just running ASPNI; in 2012 she had a spin-off, greatly assisting in the establishment of the Canadian Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel with founding chair Allan Shiff and his late wife Helaine. Robin drove up to Toronto with a carload of SPNI stationery, calendars, and newsletters. There she met Neil Shore, who had been giving in the US but became a major Canadian benefactor, and Avi Sadiv, the founding and still director of the Canadian office.

For most of her tenure, Robin has worked under a stable U.S. board, led for two decades by Leon Sokol and Russell Rothman, who she describes as “very good to work with. They gave me a great deal of autonomy and trusted my abilities. It was an atmosphere in which I learned to handle the tasks and challenges that arose, with the guidance and advice they provided when necessary.”

Personally, I’ve been working very closely with Robin for over 8 years, and have experienced her as a trusted colleague and close friend, unfailingly helpful and kind, quick to respond to requests, and always ready to go the extra mile, figuratively and literally, as she often drove Israeli guests all over the tri-state area.

Working solo from a home office for so long, Robin often wondered how she “could ever transfer the responsibility” she had. ASPNI has undergone major changes in the last couple of years, including changing its name to Nature Israel, and Robin credits Nature Israel Board Chair Jonathan Silverstein with “providing Nature Israel with this transition, which I welcome wholeheartedly”.

In fact, the Nature Israel board of directors has been fully committed to a smooth and seamless transition of professional leadership, and after a thorough process has appointed Rachel Canar, a Boston-based Jewish communal and philanthropic professional with great experience in Israel and the U.S.

Robin credits Jonathan with a “fine grasp of details” and says that “his efforts to expand and diversify the Board, recruit a new Executive Director, implement a CRM, redirect the revenue stream, as well as his future plans for travel, website, marketing, and outreach leave me breathless.”

And, so finally, deservedly, and with the praise of a generation – Robin is ready to retire.

If you would like to make a donation in honor of Robin. you can do so here.

There will be additional opportunities to honor Robin and share your memories later this year, so stay tuned.