Alvin and Janet Schwartz, communal leaders whose $500,0000 gift to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Endowment Fund was testament to their ongoing commitment and concern, died within 12 days of each other last month.
Alvin and Janet Schwartz of Bryn Mawr, much-honored communal leaders notable for their activities associated with the formation of Tiferet Bet Israel of Blue Bell, and major contributors to the Endowment Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, died at the same age, 85, within 12 days of each other: Alvin died Dec.13, with Janet passing on Dec. 25.
The couple, former longtime residents of Norristown, had been married for 45 years and, in many ways, were wed to their commitment to Jewish life and education as well.
This was evident in the $500,000 insurance policy they purchased during the 1990s naming Federation as beneficiary, with all the proceeds targeted by the Schwartzes for an eponymous fund to support Jewish special needs education.
Alvin was an area homebuilder whose thriving construction business built some 3,000 homes in New Castle County in Delaware. He was involved in leadership roles with and honored by the Home Builders Association of Delaware and the National Association of Homebuilders, where Janet served on its Women’s Council.
On the communal front, he served as one of the driving forces in creating a new home for congregants of Tiferet Israel in Norristown and Beth Israel of Lansdale through their 1989 merger into Tiferet Bet Israel of Blue Bell. Janet provided the figurative merger mortar, ensuring that the congregations fused into a well-run temple at their new Blue Bell site.
She also served as a board member, treasurer of its Women’s League, operator of its gift shop and co-chair of its Jewish National Fund drives.
At TBI, Alvin served as a past president, life director and chairman of its seminal building committee. A Penn State grad — as was his wife — he also was a past master of the Paul Robert Sand Lodge 777 of the Masons.
“They were both leaders who operated openly and behind the scenes,” Susan Kasper, longtime executive director at TBI, says of the couple who funded the temple’s sanctuary to commemorate their late parents.
“Al was literally a cornerstone of the present building. It was Al who found the land” upon which the Blue Bell temple is located, “and was instrumental in getting it built.”
Janet, whom Kasper terms “a great lady who knew how to get things done in the most appropriate way,” worked hand-in-hand with her husband in their “joint passion for education and Judaism.”
It was, according to son Jeff, a passion they passed on to all four of their children, who were inspired to take on substantial roles in the Jewish community through their own avenues and pursuits.
“We were encouraged to pursue l’dor v’dor” — a continuation of the pursuit and achievement of Jewish values from one generation to the next, says Jeff Schwartz.
Among their many joint honors — including being saluted by the Norristown Lodge of B’nai B’rith and feted by the Jewish Theological Seminary — the couple were part of the Jewish Federation’s Legacy Society/ Zion Gate.
At TBI, where they were also honored by State of Israel Bonds — an organization for which Alvin served three times as campaign chair at the temple — Alvin and Janet’s legacy continues. Indeed, both the temple’s day school and Jewish camping experience, notes Kasper, “benefit to this day through an endowment” set up by their children.
The Schwartzes also supported programs for children with special needs, including Bright Horizons, a preschool program at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood; OROT, which honored them in 2001; the Friendship Circle; and the Teen Assistance Program of the Jewish Learning Venture, a program they set up in honor of Janet’s late Aunt Reta Emerson.
Janet also gave her time — and heart — to volunteer work at Sacred Heart Hospital as well as the Girl Scouts of America.
At funeral services for her mother, Linda Satlow recalled her mom’s volunteerism as “a position she cherished” at places like Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Barrack Hebrew Academy) and Martins Run.
At her father’s funeral, Satlow talked of Alvin’s embrace of “His America”: “He was a deeply patriotic man. He loved to learn about this country: he became a history buff, reading a lot, including historical fiction, and watching movies and history documentaries. During Phillies games, he would stand and sing the national anthem loud and strong, always with a tear in his eye.
“And what was at the heart of Dad’s America? His family. Providing for and sharing his life with his wife and children, his brother and his family; their parents, and his wife’s parents. Dad’s America was a place that allowed him to express the joys of his own heart.
“In Dad’s worldview, family was everything.”
The Schwartzes are also survived by daughter Lisa Dardashti, son Steven and 12 grandchildren. Janet Schwartz is also survived by a sister, Kay Poliner.
Contributions in their memory may be sent to Tiferet Bet Israel at 1920 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.