‘Passionate’ Israel Advocate Lou Balcher Dies at 66

Balcher, a white man with short, white hair is wearing a grey Phillies shirt in the stands about the baseball diamond. To his left are his two sons.
Lou Balcher (front) at a Phillies game with sons Daveed and Alex | Courtesy of Daveed Balcher

Israel advocate and Jewish youth organizer Louis “Lou” Norman Balcher of Langhorne died on Jan. 23 after a 19-month battle with bladder cancer. He was 66.

Balcher’s commitment to Philadelphia Jewish community-building and Israel advocacy began more than 40 years ago when he served as a unit director for B’nai B’rith International. He also served as the outreach coordinator for the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College; educational director of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Bensalem; academic affairs and community relations director of the Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region; and the national director of American Foundation Creating Leadership for Israel.

Balcher founded Youth Jewish Leadership Concepts in 1986, which provided “opportunities for Jewish young professionals to form strong community bonds, learn about their Jewish heritage and build connection to Israel” according to his eldest son Daveed Balcher.

Over his career, Lou Balcher amassed a massive social network, loved ones remembered, a testament to his “passion” for “perpetuation of Jewish life,” said friend and colleague Ken Brier.

Daveed Balcher attended the Israeli-American Council conference with his father in December, where Daveed Balcher recalled Lou Balcher knowing half the attendees there. He greeted the other half of attendees in the same way.

“He would do his 30-second Google introduction: Type in ‘Philadelphia’ then type in ‘Israel’ into Google,” Daveed Balcher recalled.

“Lou” would pop up in the search suggestion bar immediately, he said.

Lou Balcher’s wide network impressed attendees of events he organized.

“He had amazing contacts and was able to bring them in,” said Congregation Tifereth Israel Rabbi Jeff Schnitzer, a friend for 25 years. “So when he would announce a program, it was somebody real that was presenting.”

Balcher hosted an annual event to remember Operation Entebbe, a covert mission in 1976 by Israel Defense Forces commandos to rescue 102 hostages, mostly Jewish and Israeli, held in an airport terminal in Entebbe, Uganda. He invited special force operatives who completed the mission to speak.

Balcher’s ability to connect with others is what made him an apt leader of YJLC, Schnitzer said. He was interested in engaging a demographic he felt lacked a cohesive Jewish community.

“There really is no organization other than what — at least at that time — he was doing that addressed young Jewish singles after college,” Schnitzer said. “And he felt that the best way to do that was to engage them in activities and with other young adults.”

YJLC hosted a ski trip in February and a summer canoe trip in the Poconos. The organization hosted meetups in Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C. and Florida.

“Lou immediately went to heaven and was … immediately promoted to archangel in charge of Jewish youth affairs,” Brier said.

Brier met Balcher in 1972 in Philadelphia; he was one of the Jewish youth with whom Balcher was organizing a trip to Israel.

In the 1970s following the Vietnam War, young people were weary of authority, Brier said, making them a challenging demographic to engage. Balcher could connect with young people, even if they had conflicting politics.

“His passion transcended left or right,” Brier said.

His interest in connecting others extended to his family life.

“Every chance, every opportunity, he told us how proud he was of us,” said Balcher’s younger son Alex Balcher. 

In his last months, Lou Balcher would come downstairs every morning and tell his wife Jocelyne that he loved her, Alex Balcher said.

Born in Cleveland, Balcher was the second-youngest of six children.

“He was very determined to unite us together over the last year-and-a-half,” eldest brother Aharon Botzer said. “We have been having Zoom meetings every week, without exception, for a year-and-a-half.”

Though Botzer was not living at home much while Balcher was growing up, he came home from college over breaks and took Balcher and his other brothers on cross-country hitchhiking trips, including one from Ohio to across the West Coast, to the Rocky Mountains and across the Canadian border, over a month. 

During a trip in Wyoming, the brothers tried to build a raft to take down the river. Botzer remembered Balcher standing on the shore, holding the ropes to the raft, which fell apart in the water. Balcher pulled the raft and his brothers to shore.

“That’s very much what Louie did in his life — pulling the strings to make things happen,” Botzer said.

Balcher is survived by his wife and two sons, as well as his siblings Aharon Botzer, Shari Weiss, Connie Inukai, Chuck Balcher and Judah Botzer.

srogelberg@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0741


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