Jack Belitsky Advocates for Northeast Philadelphia at the Jewish Federation

Jack Belitsky (Courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia)

In 2010, leaders at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia asked Jack Belitsky to submit some names of people from Northeast Philadelphia who could fill a spot on its board of trustees. The organization that tries to help Jews throughout the region thought it had a blind spot in an area that was often forgotten.

Belitsky, a resident of the Northeast, was president of the advisory committee at the KleinLife community center and chair of the Northeast Synagogue Council. He was the right man for the task.

But when he submitted his names, Jewish Federation leaders said no to all of them. Instead, they came back to him with a different one entirely: his own.

“I was honored,” Belitsky said.

The man who was perhaps the most active member of the Jewish community in the area also became its representative in the regional body. It’s a role that Belitsky has played for 12 years now, helping to increase funding for programs in his neighborhood.

Jewish Federation money now helps provide Belitsky’s neighbors with basic needs like food, shelter and socialization, particularly through programs at KleinLife. It also goes toward fun activities like a soup and story hour, a book discussion group and an art therapy program.

Belitsky, 82, participates in many of the activities with fellow seniors.

“I have been speaking for many years to the people at (Jewish) Federation about the needs of the Jewish population in the Northeast, and the leadership has agreed that we need to provide these activities for people,” he said.

“This is where I live. This is where I attend synagogue. This is where I have grown old,” he added. “And I think I have an obligation to give back to the community.”

Belitsky moved to the Northeast 57 years ago because it offered walkability to his synagogue at the time, Ner Zedek, but also to banks, supermarkets and anything else he needed. He remained at Ner Zedek for 50 years and walked there on Shabbat and other holidays.

Today Belitsky is a member — and a member of the executive board — at Congregations of Shaare Shamayim, which welcomed Ner Zedek into its community in 2017. He’s also a congregant at the Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park. And he says it’s his deep faith in Judaism and the value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, that motivates him to help his community.

Belitsky first developed this faith from spending time with his grandparents, Morris and Bessie Kaytes, who were shomer Shabbos and who emphasized the importance of tzedakah. The city resident even built his career as an elementary school teacher in the Neshaminy School District around serving others.

“It has always been an integral part of my life,” he said.

Belitsky never married and does not have kids. But he still wants to help future generations.

Belitsky likes to tell the allegory of the old man who is planting trees when some people walk by. They say, “You’ll never see the fruits of these trees,” according to Belitsky. And the old man responds, “I plant these for future generations.”

“Not only am I doing this for myself but for others who will come along in years to come,” he said.

Andre Krug, the president and CEO of KleinLife, and Inna Gulko, KleinLife’s director of support services, described Belitsky as “a total pleasure,” “a very low-key kind of guy,” “a mensch” and “very personable, too.” Gulko mentioned that every time he meets with someone, he asks about their kids.

“He cares,” she said.

But the KleinLife leaders also explained that they rely on Belitsky to help them raise money and get the attention of the Jewish Federation, and that he’s quite good at it, even though it often brings out a different side of his personality.

“He could be tough when he needs to be in terms of advocating his position,” Krug said.

Jacques Lurie, the executive director of Shaare Shamayim, has worked with Belitsky for years and called him “an institution in Northeast Philadelphia.” The duo was able to get funding from the Jewish Federation to start the Northeast Philadelphia Kehillah, which brings together the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform communities in the area.

“We’re talking about ways to do things and Jack will cut through it and say, ‘Here’s the best way to do it,’” Lurie said. “And you take a step back and say, ‘That was spot on.’” JE



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