Philanthropy has been such an integral part of Jane Zolot’s life from as far back as she can remember.
“It’s such a cliché, I hate to say it.”
Jane Zolot paused on the phone from her vacation home at the Jersey shore. She was trying to explain why philanthropy has been such an integral part of her life, from as far back as she can remember.
“You actually gain more than you give. Not only does it do good for others, but it establishes a pattern for those who are coming along, the younger generations. It expands your horizons. If you want to be selfish about it, it makes you a more interesting person.”
Trying to account for her hardwired generosity might be difficult for Zolot, who grew up in a family of givers.
“I was raised in a home where both Judaism and philanthropy were in full practice,” she said. “The two were so intimately intertwined. I mean, being Jewish just meant taking care of other people. It was all part of my everyday life.”
Zolot was one of three daughters born to Betty and Lewis Heicklen. Growing up in East Oak Lane, she saw her successful businessman father donate prodigiously to charity, as well as be active in the Jewish community.
“My father was president of Beth Sholom [Congregation] at the time Frank Lloyd Wright was building the new building,” she noted. “My mother was president of the women’s division of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. One of my earliest memories is being taken to a [Jewish] Federation agency, it was called the Association for Jewish Children, with my mother with Chanukah gifts for the children. I was very disappointed because they wouldn’t let us see the children and my mother explained to me that when we give money to help people, we don’t want to embarrass them by having them receive it from us.”
Zolot would go on to follow in her mother’s footsteps, serving in a number of different capacities at the Jewish Federation.
She also has volunteered at the Jewish Community Relations Council, the JCC and many other agencies.
Zolot’s husband, Stanley, who passed away in 2014, was as deeply committed to good works as his wife.
“My husband was extremely generous. He never turned anyone down who came with a good cause. And so together we carried on the tradition of improving life for those who needed it and building Jewish life wherever we could, and humanitarian causes.”
She counts herself lucky that she was able to devote herself full-time to making the world a better place.
“I was a professional volunteer in Hadassah, which was again a multigenerational experience. My mother and my aunt, her sister, and I were all presidents of the Philadelphia chapter of Hadassah. My grandmothers were members. My children were members.”
She calls this life of volunteerism “a luxury.”
Much of the work the couple did pertained to Israel, as well.
“Certainly Israel was always a key part of our life,” said Zolot, who traveled to the Jewish state 25 times. “I was on the Zionist General Council. I used to go to all the meetings of the World Zionist Organization. I had some extraordinary experiences on these Israeli missions and trips.”
Now 85 and living in Bala Cynwyd, the Jewish Federation Board of Trustees member counts on her children to continue the family tradition of giving back.
She also hopes that younger generations will understand their potential impact.
“When people reach a stage when they’re no longer paying for college education and are comfortable with their resources, sharing and even planning for the future with bequests is very critical,” she said. “I’ve considered it a blessing to be in a position to give service and resources and to work with people with likeminded goals because you meet amazing people who share in the same beliefs. That is one of the bonuses of getting actively involved.”
Another benefit is learning about those less fortunate.
“I remember at a [Jewish] Federation board meeting, they brought in a mockup of the food that’s delivered to people who get their food supplements or daily meals from [Jewish] Federation,” she recalled. “I saw the scanty little platters, [which were] certainly very nice but far from sumptuous. [Such an experience] alerts you to what’s going on in the world, any you feel that maybe in some small way you can help to make things better.”
Zolot has certainly done that, in ways both big and small.
This article is part of an occasional series of profiles of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia supporters.