The Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York mourns the passing of our dear founder and board member, Arlene Wittels, on January 29, 2021.*
Arlene Wittels was born in the Bronx and attended the University of Michigan Ann Arbor for her bachelor’s degree and received her Master’s Degree in Education from Columbia University’s Teachers College, after which she taught in the New York City public school system.
Arlene was charismatic, charming, magnetic, and vivacious; she was, as one friend called her, “a magnet for good things.” She was fiercely intelligent, extremely well-read, and passionately opinionated. She was also an incredible public speaker; she had the gift of making one feel as though she was talking directly to them. She devoted most of her adult life to Jewish causes and the state of Israel — passions for which she was legendary. She began her decades-long career of Jewish philanthropy as president of the Jericho Jewish Center, which then led to a series of volunteer roles increasing in responsibility at UJA, including campaign chair of the Long Island Women’s Division as well as of the New York Metropolitan Women’s Division.
But in many ways, her most personal success was the creation of JWFNY in 1995, which she conceived of and brought to life. Arlene knew how necessary it was to support women and girls; she not only sought a remedy, but, along with her co-founders, Frances Brandt, Fern Hurst, Klara Silverstein, and Peggy Tishman z”l, envisioned the future of women’s philanthropy. Because of this vision, JWFNY has granted more than $6 million to over 300 programs, to empower and improve the lives of girls and women in the Jewish community and beyond in the United States, Israel, and around the world. When it became clear that the Foundation needed to expand and redefine its mission, JWFNY followed Arlene’s example and now supports Jewish women social entrepreneurs and leaders who are effecting social change through their work. As another founding board member, Klara Silverstein noted, “this whole enterprise [JWFNY] wouldn’t have happened without her.”
When it became clear that the Foundation needed to expand and redefine its mission, JWFNY CEO, Jamie Allen Black, reached out to Arlene for her guidance. “Every time I spoke with Arlene, she was generous with her advice and counsel. She was extremely encouraging of JWFNY’s unfolding new vision and understood it to be a sequel to her vision, never a replacement.” JWFNY now supports Jewish women social entrepreneurs and leaders who are effecting social change through their work.
Throughout her life, Arlene remained an avid supporter of JWFNY and served on our board of trustees for over two decades. She saw the world’s most pressing challenges as opportunities to apply her compassion and help others, and was never deterred by the enormity of the task. Arlene never stopped working in myriad ways to help Jewish women around the world in underserved and overlooked communities.
Our condolences go out to all who knew and loved Arlene, especially her devoted husband, Milton, and their three children and spouses: Rona and Jack Wenik, David and Cindy Wittels, and Lauren Wittels, as well as six grandchildren: Ian, Jordan, and William Wenik; Tyler and Gabrielle Wittels; and Ruby Gonzales.
Her legacy lives on in all we do.
May her memory be for a blessing.
*Much of the above text was taken from her obituary penned by her daughter for The New York Times.