At 94, Leonard Becker still drives from his Wynnewood home to his Havertown office every day, still relives the Battle of the Bulge — where his life was spared by the helmet that took the bullet — and still makes regular contributions to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
There are just a couple of things he can’t do.
“I still do everything except golf and sex,” laughed Becker, married to his wife, Frieda, for 69 years. “And I miss the golf more.”
Besides a sense of humor and a sharp business acumen that enabled him to do well in the real estate and investment properties market — after starting out in the family men’s clothing business — Becker’s commitment to the Jewish community goes back even further.
He estimates that over the course of his lifetime he’s given nearly $1 million to Jewish Federation and other Jewish-related causes. That’s a tradition that dates to when his father, Isaac, took him as a teenager to the annual dinner of the organization that eventually became Jewish Federation.
“After I got home from the war in 1946, from that day forward I continued what my father instilled in me,” Becker said. “I didn’t miss a year from 1946 to now — 70 years.
“I went on a mission to Israel in 1980 and saw what was going on. It was very exciting. But with the bus bombings and shelling of the cities there, a lot of people were killed and badly hurt. I can’t do too much about that, but at least I can contribute some money to help them get through.”
It concerns him, though, that the next generation doesn’t seem as committed.
“It’s a shame how few of the Jewish people give as much as they can afford to give,” said Becker, who grew up in Wynnefield, where he became a Bar Mitzvah at Har Zion Temple. (He has been a member at Adath Israel for nearly 40 years.) “They just don’t want to part with the money.
“Most of the bigger contributors are senior citizens who have ample dollars. But when you get to the next generation, they use up every cent they make. When the younger generation — which is not doing as much as it could now — matures, they’ll increase their interest in religion and ability to make charitable gifts.”
For his part, Becker, who has two sons, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, has no complaints.
“I had a penchant for being a sucker to make investments in other businesses — like a venture capitalist,” he said. “I was active in [Jewish] Federation in my 40s and 50s, so I know what goes on — helping people domestically in need of meals, medicine and other things.
“I started out giving about $400 to $500 each year. Then, after 20 years, I moved up to $5,000 each year. When I started to do well in real estate it was $25,000, and then I gave $200,000 for the Legacy Fund and the Philanthropic Fund.”
He believes that generosity was repaid through longevity. While his golfing foursome and other friends are gone, Becker remains full of life.
“Although I don’t have the strength to do what I did 15 years ago, I’m grateful to be spared these extra years to spend with my family,” he said.
This article is part of an occasional series of profiles of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia supporters.
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