Why is it important to give Jewishly?
I have always understood the need to take care of Jews, because no one else will take care of us. People will give to universities, hospitals, art museums, and theaters… but nobody takes care of the Jews other than the Jews themselves. I was born and raised to believe that this is my responsibility.
I also realized that supporting [causes] on a collective basis, like through a Federation, allows you to touch a lot of people in a lot of places, even if you can’t be on the ground. Central Jewish agencies, like the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), work for years in various countries building their relationships, so when crises hit, like the Russia-Ukraine War or the February 2023 earthquake in Turkey, the JDC was already there, ready, willing and able to save the lives of Jewish and non-Jewish civilians alike.
How can we encourage future generations to prioritize philanthropy and to support Jewish communities?
We have to suggest to future generations, not force upon them, the importance of continuing to be rooted in their heritage. They may do incredibly wonderful things out in the world, but we can help them understand that who they are, at their core, comes from their Jewish genes and values. These core Jewish values are both in our DNA and are given to us as children through our Jewish education and the lessons we learn.
On her family’s role in the Soviet-era emigration of Russian Jews to Israel
During the Refusenik Era in the late 1960s and 1970s [when Soviet Jews were not allowed to emigrate], my father was running Shoe Corporation of America. The only way to get money to Russia to support their Jewish population was to send in goods, which Jews could sell in the black market to raise money to fund their escapes to Israel.
Through the JDC, my father’s companies sent boots, T-Shirts, Levi’s jeans, deerfoam slippers and other clothing items to Russia. These supplies were covertly sent on train cars throughout the Soviet Union to Cheseds, or “safe houses,” that would then share the goods with Jewish community members to resell.
I was in high school at the time, so only later did I realize how creative this was. To the very end of his life, my father knew what was wrong and what was right. He showed me that the duty [to take care of your people] is something that doesn’t leave you no matter how sick or how old you get.
Jane Schiff is the Immediate Past Chair for the Jewish Federation of Greater Naples. She grew up in the Federation world with parents and grandparents, who led the way in establishing the Jewish Foundation in Columbus, Ohio (now called JewishColumbus) and with involvement in JDC. Jane moved to Naples in 2013 after serving for many years on the Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. She held several positions there, including JCRC Chair, Partnership Chair, and Endowment Distribution Chair.