2018-11-07 / Voice at the Shore

You are changing lives, Jane Weitzman tells Women’s Philanthropy event

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Philanthropist and author Jane Weitzman signs her book, “Heart & Sole,” for women attending the Jewish Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy Luncheon on October 17. Philanthropist and author Jane Weitzman signs her book, “Heart & Sole,” for women attending the Jewish Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy Luncheon on October 17. Jewish women’s philanthropy has changed the world for the better and continues to do so, said Jane Weitzman at a Jewish Federation Women’s Philanthropy Luncheon at the Linwood Country Club on October 17.

Weitzman, an active philanthropist and author who is married to world-renowned shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, is on the executive committee of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

Funded in part by Jewish Federations, the JDC undertakes worldwide efforts to promote Jewish life, help needy Jews, and respond to disasters. The organization distributed nearly $300-million in 2017—with roughly a third going to Israel and another third going to help Jews in Soviet bloc countries.


Jane Weitzman told Women’s Philanthropy Luncheon attendees about her experiences on service missions with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which helps Jewish people in need worldwide. Jane Weitzman told Women’s Philanthropy Luncheon attendees about her experiences on service missions with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which helps Jewish people in need worldwide. Weitzman thanked the nearly 100 South Jersey women who came to hear her speak, many of whom were Lions of Judah, for helping to improve the lives of Jewish people worldwide through their contributions.

“I’m one of you, really,” Weitzman told attendees upon taking the podium. “I’m a Lion,” she said, referring to her engagement in the Jewish Federation’s Lion of Judah movement, which was created by the Jewish Federations of North America 30 years ago to encourage high levels of philanthropy and leadership among Jewish women.

“This is one of my favorite causes,” she noted, adding: “I want to show you some Jews around the world who have been helped with your donations.”


Judy Galler (left), Major Gifts chair for the Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May Counties, was one of the hostesses for the Women’s Philanthropy Luncheon on October 17, featuring philanthropist and author Jane Weitzman (right). Other hostesses for the event (not pictured) were Women’s Philanthropy Chairs Helene Hordes (for Atlantic & Cape May Counties) and Merle Silver (for Cumberland, Gloucester & Salem Counties). Judy Galler (left), Major Gifts chair for the Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May Counties, was one of the hostesses for the Women’s Philanthropy Luncheon on October 17, featuring philanthropist and author Jane Weitzman (right). Other hostesses for the event (not pictured) were Women’s Philanthropy Chairs Helene Hordes (for Atlantic & Cape May Counties) and Merle Silver (for Cumberland, Gloucester & Salem Counties). Weitzman then captivated the group with her personal stories and photos of Jews throughout the world helped by JDC—Jews living everywhere from India, Egypt, and Latin America, to Israel and the former Soviet Union. In some of these places, JDC built community centers and old age homes; in others, the organization created social programs and provided housing or direct financial assistance.

“In most Soviet bloc countries,” she noted, JDC can supply someone with six months’ worth of “food, fuel and medication” for $180.

Weitzman recalled one incident that particularly touched her involving a woman she met years ago on a JDC service mission to help elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union. Weitzman went with a social worker to visit this woman in her communist apartment in St. Petersburg, which was shared by six families.

“The apartment living situation was really awful,” noted Weitzman. Each family had a different room, and all six families shared the same kitchen and bathroom.

Weitzman asked the woman if she experienced anti-Semitism. The woman told her, “‘Not really,’” adding that although another woman in the apartment made a point of telling her daily how much she disliked Jews, it wasn’t really a problem. Weitzman also noticed that the Jewish woman’s tiny TV didn’t work.

Moved by the woman’s plight, Weitzman gave money to the JDC social worker to buy the woman a new TV. Not long after, Weitzman received a letter from the woman thanking her for the TV, which she said had changed her life.

Weitzman stressed the urgent need for all Jews to return to helping other Jewish people in need around the world. “We have always taken responsibility for Jews all over the world, but not now,” she stressed.

“Something has gone very wrong in our time,” she added. “Jewish people are not giving Jewishly.”

“We have to do something to change this,” she stressed. For instance, she said, if your child or grandchild is having a bar or bat mitzvah, “convince them to do something Jewish,” where their efforts would benefit Jewish people.

“No one just walked into this country,” Weitzman told attendees. “The first Jews who came to the U.S. were supported by Jews from Amsterdam.”

Several attendees asked Weitzman about her own life. The Atlanta native is married to Stuart Weitzman, creator of a fabulously successful shoe empire that Jane helped him build.

“When he started, we couldn’t afford to hire anyone other than a secretary two days a week,” she recalled. Jane, who was then a mother of two young children, assisted her husband during the rest of the week when her daughters were in nursery school. Later, when they had a store on Madison Avenue in New York City, it was Jane who created the store’s fantastic and unusual window displays. “I could do anything I wanted to with the windows!” she said.

The Weitzmans are now fulltime philanthropists. Stuart, who retired in June 2017, is now helping to build a Jewish museum in Spain, she said. In addition to her work with JDC, Jane serves as president of the Jewish Book Council. An avid reader, Weitzman said she especially enjoyed this role because “I get to see all the Jewish books and meet the authors.”

Weitzman herself is also an author. In 2013, she came out with a 200-page coffee table book, “Art & Sole: A Spectacular Selection of More than 150 Fantasy Art Shoes from the Stuart Weitzman Collection.”

“I’m never doing another book,” she laughingly told attendees, explaining, “It’s a long process!”

Attendees had an opportunity to talk with Weitzman one-on-one as she signed their copies of “Art & Sole.” All women at the luncheon received free copies, thanks to the generosity of the family of the late Fay Fisher, a Lion of Judah from Vineland who was among an elite group of women nationally to establish a Lion of Judah Endowment (LOJE). Fay’s husband donated the books in her memory, said Kirk Wisemayer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Atlantic and Cape May Counties.

Wisemayer made a point of acknowledging all luncheon attendees who are “Lions,” a designation women gained by committing to a substantial annual donation to Jewish Federation. He also gave special recognition to all women who were “LOJEs”—the designation given to the elite group of women who had established Lion of Judah endowments of $100,000 or more with their local Jewish Federation.

Hostesses for the October 17 luncheon, which was underwritten by the Eva Dessauer Lion of Judah Endowment, were Judith Galler, the local Jewish Federation’s Major Gifts chair, and Women’s Philanthropy Chairs Helene Hordes (of Atlantic & Cape May Counties) and Merle Silver (of Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem Counties).

Galler thanked Weitzman for her appearance and her efforts to help Jews worldwide. “You are really an inspiration in the way you’ve devoted your life to doing such important things,” Galler told her.

Galler also thanked luncheon attendees for their support of Jewish Women’s Philanthropy. “Like Jane, I’ve been on many missions, and I’m always impressed by the work we do… the importance of the money you give,” she said. “From my heart I tell you: You are changing the world.” 

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