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Obituary Jay Litvin Dies at 60 from Cancer; ‘face’ of Children of Chernobyl Group

April 21, 2004
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Jay Litvin, a leader of a group that helped children who became ill from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, has died of cancer at the age of 60.

Litvin, who suffered from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, died April 15 in Israel, where he had lived since 1993.

Beginning in 1990, Litvin worked for Children of Chernobyl, an organization founded by Chabad-Lubavitch to help those harmed by the 1986 nuclear accident in Ukraine.

In addition to about 4,400 people initially killed by the Chernobyl accident, Ukraine’s health ministry estimates that one out of every 16 persons among Ukraine’s 49 million people is suffering from grave health disorders linked to the disaster, with 400,000 adults and 1.1. million children entitled to state aid.

In dozens of trips to the region, Litvin coordinated the transport of more than 1,000 children to Israel for medical treatment — and many of them have stayed on in Israel as immigrants. Aside from his activities on behalf of Children of Chernobyl, including fund raising, Litvin also worked closely with international groups, including the United Nations, to help sick children in the region.

“He was a talented man who used his talents to help others,” said Abi Raichik, a former executive director of Children of Chernobyl.

Unfortunately, Litvin may have contracted cancer from his frequent trips to the region.

“He was the face of Children of Chernobyl,” said Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, a Chabad rabbi in Southern California. “He was the one who was able to explain to the broader society what was this disaster and why it was paramount for the Jewish community to try and save these kids.”

Litvin was born in Chicago. He became an observant Jew at the age of 37 and was active in local Chabad activity in Wisconsin and Arizona before moving to Israel.

More recently, he wrote articles on such topics as his illness and parenting for the Web site He also worked in Israel for the Victims of Terror Fund, a Chabad project that works to supplement medical and social services for Israelis directly affected by three and a half years of Palestinian intifada.

Even as he struggled with cancer, Litvin maintained his sense of dignity and selflessness.

When meeting with him in November, “I was struck by his sense of how his illness wasn’t important. What was important was how he could help those families,” Eliezrie said.

Last year, Litvin told the New York Jewish Week, “Having the disease had a tremendous amount of good in it. Every bad has good in it. I’m blessed to be able to do the type of work I do. I don’t have any regrets.”

Litvin is survived by his wife Sharon and seven children.

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