Sephardic Leader Leon Levy Dies At 84


eon Levy, a son of Turkish Jewish immigrants who became a philanthropist and leader of several major Jewish organizations in the United States, died Sept. 19 in Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital of heart and lung failure. A resident of Jamaica Estates, Queens, he was 84.

Mr. Levy, founder of the American Sephardi Federation and the first Sephardic chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations, was "the leading Sephardic Jew in the country," said Malcolm Hoenlein, conference executive vice chairman. "He elevated the status of Sephardic Jewry."

A native of Seattle, Mr. Levy moved with his family (who came to the United States in the early 1900s) to New York City at 10, and grew up in Astoria, Queens. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn’s Polytechnic University, and became founder of the Urban Foundation engineering firm.

Encouraged by his father-in-law, he became active in Jewish communal affairs early in his career, bringing a Sephardic voice to a largely Ashkenazic leadership group, said his daughter, Mimi Frank. "That was always prominent in his mind."

Organizations in which Mr. Levy was active included UJA-Federation, the Center for Jewish History, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Queens College Center for Jewish Studies, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Mr. Levy served as chairman of the Presidents Conference from 1997 to 1999. "He was someone who helped build consensus," Hoenlein said.

Among organizations that honored Mr. Levy were UJA, Jewish National Fund and the American Sephardi Federation.

In addition to Mrs. Frank, other survivors of Mr. Levy are his wife, Elsi; his children, Mark, Judith and Janet; grandchildren Lora, Lisa, Jarod, Samantha, Elana, Matthew, Amalia, Yonadav, Elad and Annabelle; and great-grandchildren Ruby and Solomon.