Edwin Berkowitz, 89


Edwin Berkowitz passed away last week at the age of 89.

Edwin Berkowitz was a man of many interests, according to his wife, Barbara.
Berkowitz, who passed away last week at the age of 89, was born in Philadelphia and went through school in the city. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and studied economics, graduating in 1949 after taking a leave of absence to serve in the U.S. Navy.
Soon after, he joined his father’s glass manufacturing company.
This wasn’t too long after marrying Barbara, to whom he was wed for 65 years.
The two met at a party for Berkowitz’s fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, three years before they were married — while Barbara was on a blind date with someone else.
The couple raised four children, two of whom live on the Main Line, another in Pittsburgh and another in Israel.
“He always had a wonderful sense of humor,” Barbara said. “He was very smart, very bright, very knowledgeable. He just had this way about him to make you feel very protected and very cared for, that kind of thing.”
His interests ranged from politics to architecture to theater. He took classes on as many subjects as he could while at Penn, she recalled.
His interest in architecture led him to be a key figure in the construction of the new building for Hillel at Penn, Steinhardt Hall, in 2003.
Barbara said that he spent a lot of time at Hillel as a student and wanted to give it a better home.
“He got involved with that because when he went to Penn and saw where the Hillel was at the university, it was a very old building — decrepit, run-down — he felt very strongly that they deserved” better, she said.
In fact, the first time Rabbi Howard Alpert met Berkowitz was because of his concern for Penn’s Hillel.
“At the time,” Alpert, CEO of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, recalled in an email, “Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania was housed in a facility that was woefully inadequate. Ed, already a man approaching 70, climbed the three flights of stairs to my office, introduced himself and told me, ‘This place just won’t do.’ Then and there he committed himself to doing something about it.”
This was just one way he gave back to the community. He was also heavily involved in rebuilding and reorganizing senior housing at Golden Slipper Center for Seniors, of which he was a past president.
“He just felt it was an important thing that had to be done,” Barbara said, “and he was very community-minded.”
Together, she and Edwin enjoyed going to the theater, spending time with family and friends and just sitting and talking.
“We would talk about anything on our mind,” she said. “Life problems, solutions, current events — he was very interested in world conditions.”
Berkowitz enjoyed going to services every Saturday at Har Zion Temple accompanied by Barbara. He was also a past board member and past treasurer of the synagogue.
His Jewish ties also led him to serve as past president and board member of many organizations, such as Jewish Theological Seminary Philadelphia Division, Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy) and the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at Penn — just to name a few. He was also past president of the Sealed Insulating Glass Manufacturers Association.
For those who had worked with him, “Ed” Berkowitz was a great leader.
Bob Seltzer, campaign director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, first met Berkowitz at the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, where Berkowitz was president when it was just starting out. Seltzer was the organization’s first full-time executive director.
“As a young professional,” Seltzer said, “Ed taught me through his own example the importance of fiscal integrity and intellectual honesty in running a nonprofit.”
Berkowitz was, as Seltzer describes him, “brilliant, strong, forceful and loving,” and left his mark across the community.
“His fingerprints, and that of his beloved partner, Barbara, are on virtually every institution in our region and, in many cases, around the world,” Seltzer said. “The Torah teaches us to ‘look out for the widow, the orphan and the stranger.’ Ed Berkowitz and his family do just that in their funding and in their leadership of too many organizations to count, including the Jewish Federation.”
In his role with the Jewish Federation, Seltzer had the opportunity each year to talk with Berkowitz about the needs are of the community.
“We would have a meaningful Jewish conversation every year about how he could help,” Seltzer said. “His philanthropy goes far beyond the Jewish Federation community; I was always humbled by that generosity. The Philadelphia Jewish community mourns this profound loss.”
Echoed Alpert, “Edwin J. Berkowitz was a rarity, a leader with heart upon whom an entire community could depend. He will be sorely missed.”
Edwin Berkowitz is survived by wife Barbara, their four children, Alan, Arthur, Dan and Pnina, and 10 grandchildren.
Contact: mstern@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0740


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