Philanthropist Lewis Katz inspires next generation at ‘Fireside Chat’
Lewis Katz has made a lot of money in his career as an attorney and businessman. He has been a powerful political figure in New Jersey and nationally. He has shared times with President Bill Clinton, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, the Dalai Lama and a host of other luminaries from the world of politics, sports and entertainment. But what truly makes him happy is using his money to help the causes he holds dear.
“Philanthropy gives you a feeling of happiness,” Katz told two dozen Federation Young Adult Division (YAD) members at a “Fireside Chat” at the home of Federation Vice President Lynny Ravitz and Steve Ravitz. “Most of my experience in philanthropy involves thinking quietly about the things that make you feel good,” said Katz.
Katz spoke about growing up in Camden, losing his father from heart disease when he was a year old, and about those who helped him along the way. He said that he has concentrated his giving on the places and institutions that have meant the most to him— Camden, where he helped build two Boys and Girls Clubs; the Jewish Federation, whose leaders mentored him; Cong. Beth El; Temple University; the Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill, one of three JCCs he has named in memory of his parents Betty and Milton; and several other important causes.
“As I reflect on the happiest moments of my life before I vanish, I think about what I want to teach my grandchildren. What does it tell my children and grandchildren that I led a campaign to build a Jewish Community Center?” said Katz. He said that hopefully his children and grandchildren will think about how they can return the gift they have been given through a lot of luck.
Katz’s talk was peppered with many humorous stories. He told about buying the only known signature of Abraham Lincoln from when he was at Gettysburg. He has loaned it to the National Constitution Center. Smiling as he told the story, he said that he decided to loan it so that one day his grandchildren will have to decide what to do with it. He said that he enjoys the thought of his grandchildren sitting around thinking of their “Poppy.”
There is a “high” that one gets when one helps others, said Katz. He said that it makes him feel good when an African- American woman comes up to him and tells him that he helped her child go to college. Katz said that he feels happy when he pulls into the parking lot of the Betty and Milton Katz JCC and sees children and seniors walking into the building.
Philanthropy does not have to be about giving large sums of money, Katz told the people at the “Fireside Chat.” He said that those who don’t have a lot could give a little. He also said that everyone could volunteer their time.
Katz advised the young people in the audience to use their years wisely. He said that he has met many wealthy people in his life, but has met very few greedy people who have been happy. Quoting “Pirke Avot,” the “Wisdom of the Fathers,” he said, “‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?’”
Following Katz’s talk, participants in the “Fireside Chat” had an opportunity to socialize and enjoy dessert. Sarah Kaplan, an attorney living in Voorhees, said that what Katz said that evening resonated with her as a young person just starting her career.
He said that you can start off small, or that you can volunteer your time, according to Kaplan. She said that she was also struck by the fact that Katz had picked causes that were close to him. “You pick what you’re passionate about.”
Julia Roberts, YAD chair, said that she hoped the evening got people thinking about giving their money and their time to the community. “Federation benefits when people are committed to giving,” she said. .