Our Woman of Impact profile features a local woman, nominated by a community member, who is making an impact in our community. For this issue, we spoke with Jessica Zachs, the co-chair of Federation's Dignity GrowsTM initiative, which provides menstrual supplies and toiletries to people in need. She also serves on Jewish Federations of North America's National Women's Philanthropy Board. Jessica was nominated by Judy Schlossberg, Vice Chair, Development & Women's and Debbie Glassman, Federation's Interim Vice President of Development.
What inspired you to get involved in our Jewish community?
When I moved here from New York City 30 years ago, my husband and I didn’t know many people. Fortunately, my in-laws, Judy Zachs and Henry Zachs, hooked us up with Federation. Within the first year, I chaired a Super Sunday – and then Jill Ziplow and I reinvigorated the Young Women’s Division. After that, I was on Jewish Federations of North America’s National Young Leadership Board; now I’m on the National Women’s Philanthropy Board.
What have you done to make a positive impact?
I’ve done a lot of different things over the years! One major positive impact I am proud of was helping to reinvigorate the Young Women’s Division. Eric’s and my children went to the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Hartford, where I’m the current co-chairwoman of the board. That has been a great and incredibly meaningful way to “pay it forward” for Jewish students and families in our community. I try to do the right thing and am always willing to give my time when there’s a need. The giving of one’s time is very important and a way to teach by example.
What was your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge was moving to Greater Hartford from New York City. I sold my business and moved here with Eric and a one-year-old; I went from being a businesswoman to a full-time mother who didn’t know anyone. However, finding “my people” was a significant part of my happiness. At the beginning, I met most of my friends though Federation. It’s important to find a sense of community where you live.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
By far, Dignity Grows is my proudest accomplishment. It started out as a onetime evening but quickly became so much more. When we started Dignity Grows, we didn’t foresee the major impact it would have on our neighbors in need – or the effect it would have on our volunteers. We aren’t doing this for the recognition; the impact it has had on recipients has been the most rewarding part. A $10 Dignity Grows donation helps an individual for an entire month. That’s huge! The letters we get from Dignity Pack recipients has been the single most moving part. Hearing about Dignity Grows’ impact on someone’s daily life is simply eye-opening.
What role has Judaism played in your life?
My Jewish identity has always been a pervasive part of who I am; it has given me great deal of self-definition. I’m a quintessential New York Jew. My upbringing was incredibly community oriented. Moving to Greater Hartford and sending our kids to Schechter changed my whole understanding of what it means to be a Jew. Our decision to send our kids there was hugely impactful on the role Judaism plays in our lives, individually and as a family. I was educated via my children. Day schools are one of the few places that impact an entire family from top to bottom.
Is there any advice you’d like to share with other women?
Don’t be scared. Women are the doers and door openers in society. Formulate an idea, figure it out, talk to people, believe in it. Dignity Grows is a key example of taking an idea, running with it, and seeking out like-minded people. Just go for it!