By Adam Grobman
Though Sam Levine was not born in Harrisburg, he’s become an integral part of it.
“By Harrisburg standards, I’m not native, because I’ve only lived here sixty-five years,” he jokes. “I was born in Hazleton and my family moved here when I was two years old.”
Sam has pretty much been in Harrisburg since – staying here even during college – and he credits the strength of the Jewish community in playing a major role in his and his family’s decision to spend their lives here.
“I wanted to have a Jewish life,” he says. “We lived two blocks away from the Silver Academy, and we just felt the community offered a great lifestyle.”
He has been involved with the Jewish community ever since, and this year, is being honored for his lifelong commitment to community stewardship with the Albert Hursh Leadership Award.
“He’s been a community supporter as long as I’ve known him,” says Alyce Spector, the 2020 recipient of the award. “He’s very deserving of the award and more people should come forward and look at these people who help and support the community.”
Sam has been involved with his synagogue as a board member of Beth El Temple for many years, where he also served as assistant treasurer and vice president. Later, inspired by his father-in-law Leonard Berman (the 2005 recipient of the Hursh Award), he joined the board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Central PA, where he recently served as board chair for four years.
“Len piqued my interest many years ago with his involvement,” Sam says. “He was involved early on with the Foundation and is a strong proponent of ensuring the financial needs of the Jewish community are met through the Foundation.”
Sam’s tenure as board chair included bringing a major project to that end to Harrisburg – the Life and Legacy Program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
When Foundation Executive Director Paulette Keifer proposed the project, he recalls skepticism as to whether a community of this size could be successful in the campaign. “But,” he says, “I didn’t think we could afford not to do it.”
Sam became a “cheerleader’’ for the project, working to rally support for the program from the Foundation’s board of directors.
“It proved to be such a success for the community,” Sam says. “As the smallest community accepted to participate in the program, we really shocked not only ourselves, but the Grinspoon staff.”
Between fourteen participating Jewish organizations in Central PA, the program secured more than 600 planned gifts estimated at more than $25 million, fortifying the financial future of the Jewish community. Community organizations continue to use the “planned giving” model to give donors the ability to have an impact for generations to come.
“It speaks so much of our community,” Sam says. “The leadership of our community worked together because they wanted to do something that was good for their organization and the community as a whole, and I’m so proud of how all that came together.”
Sam appreciates the program’s impact as a native of Hazleton – one of many Pennsylvania towns with bygone communities, where there are few traces of Jewish life remaining beyond cemeteries.
“I have that passion and a lot of people who came from those areas have that passion because we’ve seen what happens when the financial support is not there,” he says. “And long-term, the financial support will allow us to recruit younger families and say ‘this is a good place to have a Jewish life.’”
With one of his two children, along with two grandchildren, choosing to stay in Harrisburg, he is grateful for the strong institutions that make a Jewish lifestyle possible in Harrisburg.
“That’s where my passion comes from,” he says. “I want to see that there is an opportunity for my children and grandchildren to be able to live a Jewish life in the greater Harrisburg community.”
Sam says that anything that grows the community and its offerings is exciting to him.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of excitement with the new Campus for Jewish Life,” he says. “I am very optimistic, because the success of the Life and Legacy campaign made me understand that many people have a deep love for this community. We have a Jewish Day School, the Jewish Home – for the size of our community, these things speak a lot to our commitment to the Jewish lifestyle.”