Living a Life of Giving - JFSSD
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Living a Life of Giving

Meet Zita Liebermensch, Longtime JFS Supporter and Community Champion

Zita Liebermensch with friends, Inge Feinswong and Lilly Strausberg, at the groundbreaking of the Liebermensch Family Comfort Facility.
Zita Liebermensch with friends, Inge Feinswong and Lilly Strausberg, at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Liebermensch Family Comfort Facility.

Anyone who has met Zita Liebermensch knows she has a heart of gold. Recently, we had the privilege of sitting down with Zita, a longtime Jewish Family Service supporter and community champion, to find out why she’s inspired to live a life of giving.

Zita’s early life was marked by her family’s escape from Austria after Kristallnacht, “Night of Broken Glass,” which destroyed her father’s tailor shop. Arriving in Brooklyn, New York, as a refugee, she was 1½ with an 8½-year-old brother.

“Suddenly, our country was at war, and we were refugees. I remember my brother having a difficult time adjusting to our new life because he spoke German, and the other kids weren’t very nice to him. My dad worked very, very hard in sweatshops as a tailor, but it wasn’t the same as having his own business.

I grew up in Brooklyn, in a working-class Jewish neighborhood. We played outside in the streets, where everyone knew you—the neighborhood felt like a real community. We didn’t have a lot, but we always had enough. My dad would often send care packages back to family in Europe, and we always saved a little for the pushka (donation box).

My mom never fully recovered from the war. Speaking only German, she did not have many friends and lived a very isolated life. I vowed never to be that person. I would meet life head-on. That vow really challenged me throughout my life to stay positive and keep going.”


On Memorial Day Weekend, when I was 20, I worked in New York, and the Stephen Wise Group was sponsoring an event in the Catskills. So, a friend and I went because it was a great way to meet young people. At these events, there were always lots of food and entertainment activities. And one night, Morris sat down beside me and gave me a line that I was not crazy about…’He had references.’ Despite that, I gave him a chance, and he won me over for a lot of reasons—number one, he had a car, and my friend and I had come up in a bus.”

One year later, on June 1, Zita and Morris were married. They moved into the same apartment that she had grown up in. After her mother passed away and her father remarried, her brother moved to San Diego to work for General Dynamics, and she and Morris followed shortly after. They fell in love with San Diego right away.

“Morris was a jack of all trades—that’s how he survived the war. When we moved to San Diego, Morris wanted to build, but he needed a contractor’s license, and he needed to study for that. I had an excellent recommendation from my previous job in New York, so I was able to get a good job right away at Cubic Corporation. We lived off my salary in a one-bedroom apartment. Back then, a couple could afford to live in San Diego on only one income. Morris ended up working with my co-worker’s husband, who was a contractor, and that enabled him to get his foot in the business.”

After four years at Cubic, Zita quit working to focus on their family, which grew to include three children. Over the years, Morris’ business grew. He built their family home in Del Cerro, and several buildings and apartments throughout the city, keeping the rents affordable for tenants.

“We have always given what we could—sometimes that was only $10 or $15. Eventually, we felt a little bit more comfortable with our finances and started giving to more organizations. Today, that list has grown to nearly 100 names—from the Red Cross to cystic fibrosis research—you name it. But the Jewish organizations are my favorite. My children are grown and married, and my needs are minimal so I like to try and help as many people as I can. That’s why I like JFS, because they help everyone, as well as our Jewish community.”

Over the years, Zita and Morris’s generosity and connection to JFS continued to deepen—attending several JFS Heart & Soul Galas, making regular donations—including a new oven for the JFS Loonin Family Kitchen, and joining the Centennial Countdown Campaign in 2018, which established a $50 million endowment to support JFS long into the future. When Morris passed away, Zita felt compelled to honor his memory in a new permanent Holocaust installation at JFS called Remembrance & Hope.

“Morris really struggled with being a Survivor. His little brother didn’t survive the war, and he always felt responsible—like it should have been him instead. He lived with a lot of guilt, and I often pushed him to keep going. In memory of Morris and his family, and in remembrance for the whole world to see, I knew we had to be a part of this important work.”

Zita and family at the Remembrance & Hope dedication.

Most of the photos and artifacts used in Remembrance & Hope were donated by local San Diego Survivors and their families, many of whom arrived in San Diego as refugees following World War II. In every way, this work of art is a celebration of their lives and their indelible contributions to the growth and strength of our San Diego community. You can find Morris’ photo as a child at the top of the fourth panel.

To this day, Zita continues to support JFS—most recently funding the Liebermensch Family Comfort Facility for families living out of their vehicles in the Safe Parking program.

I am always for the underdog. My heart goes out to community members who were forced to take shelter in their cars without basic facilities. We have affordable housing all over the city of San Diego because Morris always kept the rents low in his buildings, but he was a small-time builder. We need more of that in San Diego. I was very proud to bring my children to the groundbreaking because it’s important for me to set an example for them through my giving. And then one day, they can set an example for their children.”

Many thanks to Zita for her continued generosity and dedication to uplifting the community. We are honored to embrace her as part of our JFS family.

Discover the many ways you can leave a legacy at JFS by contacting Lacey Lee, Director of Planned Giving at [email protected] or by visiting

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