Our Legacies Are What We Leave Behind

By Anita Silvert


Riskin wedding photo

Jack and Reva Riskin Wedding Photo


How do you build a legacy? For the Riskin family of San Francisco, the legacy of Reva and Jack began with learning. In a conversation with Josh Riskin, Reva and Jack’s son, we learn that both his parents were educators. His father was a middle school math/social studies teacher and counselor. His mother received her PhD in clinical psychology at the age of 60. As they taught their sons, Josh and Seth, Jack and Reva knew that education was something that no one could take away from you.


Another building block of a legacy is what you do with one’s education. Reva Riskin, who passed away in 2021 after surviving COVID-19, focused her work on a difficult population to work with – paranoid schizophrenics. Reva’s father was an educated man but had to start over with a new career when he arrived in this country. He became a tailor, and a successful one at that, yet Reva saw the immigrant challenge – learning a new language and navigating a new culture. This experience stayed with her; she worked with the recent FSU population, and Josh remembers tagging along with her as she went door-to-door with a trunkful of household goods. And, going a step further, Reva welcomed these new immigrants into her home.


Jack Riskin who passed away in 2015, taught Josh and his brother that “money is the conduit to pass along what the more fortunate have, to those who are less fortunate.” Josh remembers that throughout his childhood, he and his brother were singled out as Jewish in largely non-Jewish neighborhoods and schools. His father, however, built his sons’ Jewish identity through JCC classes and big family gatherings. Though not a regular synagogue-goer, the Riskin household celebrated all the Jewish holidays throughout the year.


For both Reva and Jack, the iconic blue boxes from Jewish National Fund-USA were the go-to gift for celebrations and in memory of loved ones, planting trees throughout the land of Israel. They looked further into the mission of the organization and realized that the cultivation of land there was the work that meant most to them. For Jack, land “was the most important entity to further the growth of a country.” They felt that Jews always needed a place to go, and from then on, JNF-USA was the only organization the Riskins supported. They saw it as furthering the best interests of the Jewish people. It was a perfect match of vision for both donor and recipient.


Jack and Reva talked a lot about philanthropy. For them, you “give where you can, give anonymously”, but for Josh, their son, talking about their generosity now is a way of honoring them. They never had a chance to go to Israel, something Reva lamented to the end of her life. But thanks to the legacy of Jack and Reva Riskin, the work of JNF-USA, thrives and continues to impact the state of Israel in ways that outlive them. Their generosity allows JNF-USA to offer the experience of visiting Israel to so many others each year.


Our legacies are what we leave behind. For Jack and Reva Riskin, they left a lasting legacy, indeed. Their two sons have pursued different career paths, yet the Jewish identity that was so present throughout their childhood continues to live on through their actions today.

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