In Memoriam Lewis Katz 1942-2014
If you live in the Delaware Valley, by now you know that Lewis Katz, who had just last Tuesday had won control of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com, died in a plane crash in Massachusetts over the weekend.
Katz was born in Camden and while he went on to make a fortune in the parking business and broadcasting (YES Network) he gave away millions of dollars to charities in Camden and throughout South Jersey.
On Wednesday, June 4, a memorial service was held at Temple University to honor one of, if not Temple’s most successful alums. Former President Bill Clinton was there, former Pa. Governor Ed Rendell, who was invited to be on that plane that day was there. So was Bill Cosby, another famous Temple alum, as well as former Philadelphia Phillie Shane Victorino. Here is a link to the Philadelphia Inquirer story about the memorial service.
So, what does this have to do with he Jews of Trenton? Well, in Cherry Hill, the Jewish Community Center is named the Betty & Milton (His father died when he was one year old) Katz JCC. Down the shore, in Margate, New Jersey, it’s the Milton & Betty Katz JCC. And in Trenton, Betty was again to take the lead billing at the Betty & Milton Katz Jewish Community Center. It never opened.
On February 1, 2009, Lewis Katz trudged across a muddy field with his four grandchildren in tow and made a 7 minute speech at the groundbreaking for a building that was ultimately built, but opened last year, not under the banner of the JCC, but as the Windsor Athletic Club. I recorded his speech that day and after I heard about the plane crash, I found the file.
In his speech, Katz talks about fulfilling the lessons of his Heder teachers. He talks about teaching his grandchildren about Tzedakah. He also talked about “sharing the blessings that really aren’t yours, that are given by a higher being to be shared with your community.”
This was a lesson about teaching his grandchildren to know their responsibility “How to respond to people who say “You’ve done this before, What do you think? And to jump at the opportunity to help, to see it, not for yourself but as a privilege, almost a message from G-d.”
He went on to say, “It won’t just be a building. It will be a chance for our brothers and sisters to come together. It’ll be a chance for seniors to be with children. Not to be walled-off from children...and the reverse for children to be with seniors. Something our society never really understood.”
Katz closed by humbly thanking a group of people (Richard Kohn, Drew Staffenberg, Ken Mack, and Ron Berman) who had reached out to him and asked him to donate some of his fortune to the JCC campaign. Imagine!! Thanking people who came to ask you for millions! It was a simple speech, one that revealed a side of a successful lawyer and businessman that was echoed over and over in the memorial service at Temple University. My favorite quote of the day was from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, who used Katz’s own words. "It's never a perfect day unless you help someone who can never hope to repay you." On that day 5 years ago, Katz talked about bringing his grandchildren to the Betty and Milton Katz JCC. It’s an opportunity that he never lived to see and unfortunately, it is one that probably won’t happen to us here in Central West Jersey in our lifetimes either.
Thank you Mr. Katz. That day in 2009 really was a perfect day. Little did those of us in attendance realize that we truly couldn’t repay you.