Jennifer Lynn Robinson is 47. Given what she’s gone through, that’s more remarkable than it first appears.
In 2008, Robinson, then a practicing litigator, was hit by a truck near the University of Pennsylvania. The impact was so great that one of the police officers on the scene later visited Robinson in the hospital, just to confirm that she had actually survived.
Robinson more than survived. Emboldened by her second chance, she’s become a motivational speaker, a consultant, CEO of her own company and even a TV host. Her recent TEDxTalk has generated more than 1,000 views on YouTube.
Robinson, an Abington native with degrees from Haverford College and Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law, talked about her Jewish upbringing and what she’s learned about possibility.
How does your philosophy of resilience overlap with your identity as a Jewish person?
I talk a little bit in my TEDxTalk about my family background … My mom grew up in Fez, Morocco, and they ended up fleeing the country with nothing but two suitcases when she was 17. There was anti-Semitism in the late ’60s, and Jews were being persecuted at that time. They basically just told the government they were going to a wedding in Paris and never came back. They were very established there, and then left and had to start over with nothing.
My father was born at the end of the war. My grandmother and her youngest sister were the only survivors in her family. Her other siblings and parents died in the camps. They survived the war hidden underground on a farm with a Christian couple in exchange for seamstress work. My grandmother was a seamstress. She kept a diary that’s now at Yad Vashem, and she also became a national Holocaust speaker. She and my grandfather brought my dad to this country from Krakow, Poland, and they started over.
So both of my parents were very, very motivated to be successful and to have us be successful. We heard growing up all the time how lucky we were to be Jewish and American, and to be in this country, as opposed to other parts of the world. I’m the oldest of three girls. You know how it is when you’re the oldest [laughs], the expectations are on you … I was in one of those households, probably in a lot of Jewish households, that were told, “You’re either going to law school or medical school.”
You talk a lot about how resilience allowed you to continue doing things you did before the accident, albeit in a slightly different way. Did that experience spur you to try anything new?
I’m definitely more willing to try new things now. I had a fear of flying; I would really only fly to see my sister in Michigan, and I would have panic attacks on an hour-and-20-minute flight. I’m such a traveler now … I’ve taken up boxing, I’ve gone zip lining and I even got a tattoo. My husband makes fun of me, because he’s like, “Who gets a tattoo in their 40s?” It definitely was a rebirth of sorts. It’s given me more incentive to do more new things and take advantage of every day.
Do you think of yourself as a survivor?
Absolutely. There are times when I think back to the details of what happened that day and I think, “There’s really no reason I should be here.” I’ve been told multiple times that if I wasn’t so close to a [Level I Trauma Center] that I wouldn’t have made it. I celebrate that day every year as my “life day.” I do something different every year to celebrate, because I think it’s more important than my birthday.
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