Caretakers of the Jewish Community

Howard and Elizabeth Shwiff

For Howard and Elizabeth Shwiff, the Federation is much more than a philanthropic organization – in their case, it was a matchmaker.

“I wouldn’t be married to Howard if it weren’t for the Federation,” says Elizabeth. “In 1989, the Federation sponsored a huge event at the Hotel Nikko called ‘Operation Exodus’ to raise money for Soviet Jews, and that’s where we met.”

Over the ensuing 27 years, the Shwiffs have deepened their ties to the community, and, in 2016, made a generous commitment to the Centennial Campaign.

The Shwiffs came to their Jewish identity in very different ways. Howard was raised in a large Jewish family in Dallas. He was deeply affected by a family tradition, called “the family circle,” in which the family elders would convene at gatherings and offer interest-free loans to family members in need. As a result, the Shwiffs are generous benefactors of the Hebrew Free Loan Association of San Francisco.

Elizabeth was born in the Admont, a Jewish refugee camp in Austria after World War II. Her mother, who was raised in Odessa and escaped to Vienna, met Elizabeth’s father, who was Russian, in the Admont camp. In 1951, the family immigrated to the United States and Elizabeth grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“Because we were immigrants, my mother always said that, in our house, it would be like the Old Country, speaking our languages,” says Elizabeth. “But, in order to survive, when you step out of the house, you have to adapt.” Elizabeth went on to become an expert in linguistics and speaks four languages. She also holds a master’s degree in taxation, among other degrees.

She has worked around the world for the U.S. State Department and other entities. Elizabeth’s peripatetic career took her back to Austria in the 1970s, to interview emigrating Soviet Jews for the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. It was one of the experiences that strengthened her connection to the Jewish community and helped her recognize the ways community institutions could help people in need.

Today, Elizabeth and Howard, who live and work in San Francisco, are principals in Shwiff, Levy and Polo, a CPA and financial services firm they founded in 1989. Howard is also a real estate investment manager and advisor.

For Elizabeth, it’s the Federation’s longstanding track record in the community that compelled her to give.

“The people at the Federation are highly professional and competent; they’re going to be around for a very long time,” she says. “I’m not going to be around forever, and who knows what’s going to be needed in future years? I trust the Federation to make the right decisions and be the caretaker of the Jewish community.”

“We want to see many more Jews have the opportunities we’ve had, to become safe and secure, part of a community, grow a business, and maybe become a leader. And that is what the Federation does.”

Categories: Community, Philanthropy


February 16, 2017


Jackie Krentzman