KINGSTON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)– The passing of Irv Lebowitz is a massive blow to the Jewish community here in the Wyoming Valley and beyond.
Lebowitz worked with children and teens from Albany down to Lancaster for decades, primarily as a staple in the Jewish Community Center and youth programs in Wilkes-Barre. His forte, when not cooking up meals at JCC camps — basketball.
“Irv and I started, I was the coach and he was my assistant. We did a lot of work together here at the JCC before he was hired,” said long-time friend Neil Kaufer. “One time we went down to Philadelphia and played in the Star of David games. We won the gold medal and right after that he was hired at the center, so that was something that was probably very important to him.”
While athletics were important, he even knew how to make an impact on kids who were not involved in sports.
“He would let you carry his clipboard at camp. It, maybe, wasn’t meaningful but for a child that wasn’t an athlete or involved in other things,” said Barbara Sugarman, who spent decades working with Irv. “–these things were important. He found the kids who needed extra attention and always gave it to them.”
The legacy of ‘The Fox’ extends far beyond the hardwood. Those who have known him for a lifetime at the JCC spoke about the kind of man Irv was.
“I think the thing was, he cared,” Sugarman added. “Once you were his friend, he was your friend for life. Be it in a bridge game or cooking at camp, he’d remember what you liked to eat. He’d walk through the building and talk to the senior adults. He’s impacted everyone in all of these ways and we’ll never forget him.”
On top of being a mentor to thousands of youth, Lebowitz served six years in the Army reserves and was a life master at the JCC’s bridge club. Those close saw the relationships he built with everyone he could along the way.
“He actually gave his life to the Jewish community,” said Kaufer. “He was a tremendous mentor and example for the rest of us to follow. I know from talking to the kids that he had over the years how much they honor and respect him — and he’s going to be sorely missed.”
Neil Kaufer’s friendship spans generations and is special to one elected official.
“Irv has been my father’s best friend for about 50 years,” said State Representative Aaron Kaufer. “He actually set my parents up on their first date so, obviously, I wouldn’t be here without him.”
Aaron credits his ability to be a leader to his father and ‘The Fox.’ He knows he’s not alone.
“There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of kids that came up through the JCC and the camp who Irv had a major role in helping form who that person was,” he said.
One of those people, in fact, is Aaron’s father.
“I started out as one of his students, I guess you would call it. He was our group leader,” said Neil. “He invited me to come and participate and I did. That was about when I was 15 or 16-years-old. We struck up a relationship that’s gone on for almost 50 years.”
From youth to senior citizens, it’s apparent the roles that Lebowitz played in this community.
“He was someone that would give you the shirt off their back,” added Aaron. “He truly cared so much about the kids, the community and would have done anything for anyone. They don’t make people like Irv anymore. They really don’t.”
The JCC is now announcing the formation of an “Irv Lebowitz Memorial Athletic Fund” to give back to those he won’t be able to help grow, anymore.
The void in the community may never be filled, but the fund will be there to help, just like ‘The Fox’ always was.