By Stephanie Bolmer
Editor’s Note: We continue our series on individuals who have laid the foundations for the future of the Lehigh Valley Jewish community through their generosity this month by featuring Lenny Abrams.
“Everybody loves Lenny. There is not a person that doesnt love Lenny,” said Vicki Wax, a longtime friend of Leonard “Lenny” Abrams, who considers him to be one of the first mentors she and her husband, Stan z”l, had in the Lehigh Valley. “We spent years together on the [Jewish Federation] board, learning from him.”
Abrams arrived in the Lehigh Valley from New York in 1955, and he has been an integral part of the Jewish community for decades.
“In Brooklyn, where I was born and raised, it was very, very difficult to feel a part of a community because there were so many people and it felt so distant and sort of at arm’s length constantly,” recalled Abrams. “Probably five or six years after I arrived in Allentown, when I began to become more settled, I sort of gradually became involved. And of course, I knew several of the mature, developed leaders of the community, such as Bernie Kobrovsky, Mort Levy and Bobby Klein. I, in short order, began to respect what these gentlemen had accomplished, and at the urging of Bernie and Morty, I became more and more involved.”
That initial spark of involvement led Abrams to the Federation board, and then to campaign chair, and eventually to the Federation presidency. He also served on the board of the Jewish Community Center. Looking back, Abrams credits the leaders who came before him and worked with him for making the Lehigh Valley Jewish community such a great place that he wanted to belong to.
“I always felt that the leadership was a big, big factor,” said Abrams. “And as I look back, I think the leaders who preceded me really did a fine job of organizing the community and keeping it involved. The community leadership caused us to excel, and when we excelled we gained recognition as a relatively small community at that time that was raising money per capita as well as any Federation in the country.”
Contributing to the Federation’s fundraising abilities is a source of pride for Abrams. In addition to helping with the Annual Campaign for Jewish Needs year after year, Abrams was also a pivotal part of creating the Lehigh Valley Jewish Foundation’s Heritage Society, which is comprised of individuals pledging to make a bequest of $100,000 or more to the Federation.
Taffi Ney, former head of that endowment, describes Abrams thusly: “Always a jokester, but Lenny has a serious side (don’t tell anyone). He has a great mind for business and is a thoughtful leader and role model. A trustworthy confidante, loyal friend and real mensch, our community is fortunate to have an elder statesman like Lenny still involved and young at heart and mind.”
Abrams has much hope for the future of the Lehigh Valley Jewish community and believes it is in the hands of good leaders now as it was when he first came here.
“I admire the young leaders that have come forward, and I think they have a good feel for what has to happen next,” he explained.
Jeri Zimmerman, executive director of the Federation, is grateful for his example.
“I am so fortunate, as a ‘newcomer’, to know Lenny. In addition to the wonderful sense of humor he is so well-known for, Lenny is warm and genuinely caring, and he makes a difference to the work we do,” said Zimmerman. “Lenny is a pleasure to work with, and he gets it!”
As for Abrams, when he was doing the work to build up the Jewish community to where it is today, he wasn’t concerned with his own renown.
“Actually, I never thought of it in terms of ‘impact’ while I was doing it,” said Abrams. “It’s only as the years have passed and I’ve grown older that looking back I realize that, you know, it was not just myself, there were so many other people that followed me. And when I was finished with my ‘prime time’ and I watched and saw these successors take the baton, it sort of made me feel better about what I had done and accomplished.”
Wax summed up Abrams as a man of both intellect and humor.
“He’s respected for his intelligence and loved for his life attitude and funny stories,” she said. “He is so smart, and he always knew how to guide Federation through difficult times. But, I cannot think of him without smiling. He’s like a stand-up comedian. Being with Lenny makes everyone happy.”