After a day of searching, Rachel Jacobs, a”h, 39, tech executive and Jewish community activist, was confirmed to be among the fatally injured victims of last week’s tragic Amtrak crash. She was remembered for her exceptional dedication to community work and sincere desire to help the world.
“This is an unthinkable tragedy,” her family said in a statement. “Rachel was a wonderful mother, daughter, sister, wife and friend, who was devoted to family and social justice.”
The 39-year-old Detroit native lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side with her husband, Todd Waldman, and two-year-old son, Jacob. Her parents, John and Gilda Jacobs, play prominent roles in local political life as well as in the Jewish community. Gilda Jacobs is a former Michigan state senator and current chief executive of the Michigan League for Public Policy.
Rachel Jacobs grew up in Huntington Woods, graduating from Berkley High School and Swarthmore College and Colombia Business School. She was a founder and board chairwoman at Detroit Nation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting startups in her Michigan hometown.
“My family has always been very involved in the Jewish community and Detroit’s community,” Jacobs said in a 2011 interview with Repair the World, about the inspiration for her organization. “In many ways, it feels like a part of our family DNA — and when we think about what it means to be Jewish, it’s very much focused on building community.”
With support from the UJA-Federation, the organization united Detroit natives living throughout the country to develop infrastructure in their hometown. The Federation helped Jacobs and other volunteers develop the organization based on models of Diaspora support for causes in Eretz Yisrael.
A leader in the increasingly technology-driven worker training and development industry, Jacobs was commuting home to New York from her new job as CEO of the Philadelphia educational software startup ApprenNet. She previously worked at McGraw-Hill, leading the expansion of the company’s career-learning business into China, India and the Middle East, and Ascend Learning, another education-technology firm.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to the family of Rachel Jacobs after this unimaginable tragedy,” said a statement from the Jewish Federation of Metropolititan Detroit. “Our community grieves over this truly heartbreaking loss.”
Hundreds attended her funeral in Detroit’s Ira Kaufman Chapel.
“My sister was my role model, my confidante and my best friend,” said Jessica Steinhart. “ … She was a hard act to follow.”
(With reporting from Associated Press)