By Stephanie Smartschan
JFLV Director of Marketing
After decades of involvement with the Jewish community in the Lehigh Valley, Eva Levitt has been elected to take on the role of president of the Jewish Federation.
“It’s going to give me an opportunity to carry forth my ideas of what we can do to further help Jews in this community and around the world,” said Levitt, who has previously served as campaign chair and currently serves as Women’s Division president for the Federation.
Namely, she would like to see the engagement of younger people in the community grow significantly, she said.
“I always knew and believed in what Federation does for Jews in need and what Federation stands for, and I want to pass that on to the younger generation,” she said.
Levitt has seen it both as a recipient and a supporter first-hand.
She was born in Czechoslovakia and survived the Holocaust due to the kindness of Christians who hid Levitt and her mother while her father was interned at Auschwitz. At the age of 7, she emigrated to the United States and settled in New York with the help of HIAS. From then on, her family was always concerned with giving back, she said.
A chance meeting in a hospital room brought Eva and her husband Larry to Allentown. At the time, Larry was a resident at Memorial Hospital in New York. He came home one day and told Eva about a patient whose husband spent every night sleeping in his wife’s room in a recliner and probably couldn’t afford a hotel. Invite him for dinner, Levitt said.
It turned out that the man was Leonard Pool, the founder of Air Products and a principal benefactor who went on to spearhead the formation of Lehigh Valley Hospital.
“My husband credits the building of Lehigh Valley Hospital to my chicken,” joked Levitt. “I wasn’t even a good cook then.”
A friendship developed and Pool ultimately convinced Larry Levitt to start his neurology practice in Allentown in 1972.
Eva Levitt started working part-time in her husband’s practice, increasing her hours as the youngest of her three children increased her school day. Eventually she became the practice manager and did that for about 20 years. She then went on to consult in doctors’ offices, specializing in office management.
“When I retired from that, I really put a lot more time into volunteering,” she said.
She frequently accompanies her son Marc, a pediatric surgeon in Columbus, Ohio, on overseas trips to provide specialized surgeries in struggling communities. In advance of these trips, she collects items including medical supplies and stuffed animals to bring with her.
Levitt rarely attends a meeting without bringing her knitting needles. She sells her pieces to raise money for food banks in Israel, the Neve Michael Youth Village and the local Jewish community. She has visited Israel upwards of 20 times, with many of these visits taking place on Federation missions where she has seen first-hand the impact of the dollars raised.
On one such trip, the group was visiting a school when a rocket attack took place. As a result of that experience, Levitt helped to bring six of the students to Allentown for the summer.
On a trip to Ukraine a couple of years ago, Levitt and her husband visited a 90-year-old woman who lived in a tenement that still had the bombing effects from World War II. The apartment had no running water and no window.
Federation funds provided the woman with food boxes and a health care worker. “She said without the work of Federation, she would not be alive,” Levitt said.
With these experiences in mind, Levitt has worked tirelessly over the years to raise money for the Federation’s Campaign for Jewish Needs. She is a past recipient of the Pomerantz Award for Campaign Excellence and the Jewish Federations of North America’s Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award, given to Lions of Judah who have demonstrated the highest ideals of leadership and involvement.
“Eva has a deep love for this organization and what it stands for and what it does,” said Iris Epstein, current campaign chair. “She has the experience and I know that she will be forward-thinking in taking this organization to the next level.”
Levitt is also a past recipient of the Mortimer S. Schiff Award for Prejudice Reduction. She has lectured often as a Holocaust survivor and participates annually in the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding’s prejudice reduction workshop at Muhlenberg College.
As a longtime member of Congregation Sons of Israel, Levitt helped to create the Kinderlights program, a senior visitation initiative on pre-Shabbat afternoons.
She currently serves on the board of the Jewish Day School of the Lehigh Valley, where her children and grandchildren attended. She co-founded Tikvah House for special needs Jewish adults and volunteers in a local public school.
“In addition to her philanthropy, Eva is always finding ways to help people,” said Mark L. Goldstein, executive director of the Federation. “She loves this community and will bring her unique vision to the position.”
Mark H. Scoblionko, current Federation president, said he takes great pleasure in passing the baton to Levitt, his friend of more than 40 years. “We have chosen a new president who has been not only involved, but deeply committed, in every facet of Jewish life in our community and internationally,” Scoblionko said. “She has transcended her roots as a Holocaust survivor to doing good for everyone and everything she touches. Our Federation is blessed to have her as its next president.”