Sharon and Jamie Lebovitz: Different Roots...Same Values

Tags: Federation, Philanthropy

  • Share This Story

From left to right: Jennifer Lebovitz and her fiancé, Brian Myers; Jessica Just; Sharon Lebovitz; Tyler Just; Evie Just; Jamie Lebovitz; Zach Just; Laura Tramer Lebovitz; Jordan Lebovitz.

Finishing each other’s sentences isn’t surprising after nearly 40 years of marriage, but for two people who grew up in very different families, Sharon and Jamie Lebovitz are completely in sync, especially when it comes to their values. They agree that everything they do is “for the kids” and one of the most important things they have done for their kids is to instill the importance of tzedakah and tikkun olam very early in their lives.

Jamie’s parents, Carole and Merle, were both American-born and were first-generation Americans. They had connections to their Eastern European roots through Jamie’s paternal grandparents, Dave and Deena, and maternal grandparents, Dorothy and Sidney Duchon. The Holocaust, although it was a horror for all Jews, did not directly affect their family. Jamie’s family, however, had a strong Jewish identity – Jewish values, observance of the holidays, charity, and volunteerism were an integral part of their lives. Jamie remembers his mother being actively involved in many nonprofit organizations, including ORT and the schools.

Sharon has a very different family history. Her mother, Mona, was born in Norway. One day after the Nazis took over Norway, Mona’s father was taken away by Nazi collaborators, and word spread that she, her sisters, and her mother would be taken the next day. With the help of non-Jewish neighbors, they escaped to Sweden and lived there throughout the war. Mona’s father perished immediately upon arrival at Auschwitz. After the war, and with no Jewish life remaining in Norway, Mona immigrated to the United States. She became a governess for a physician and his family in Manhattan and eventually was fixed up on a date with Irving Effron, who was from Lithuania and had escaped death by living in England during the war. They were engaged after seven days. Sharon and Jamie are committed to remembering this history, but telling the stories was not enough for them.

When their son, Jordan, was a senior in high school, he, Sharon, and Grandma Mona took a meaningful journey from her birthplace in Norway to Sweden and then on to Poland to visit where her father was murdered at Auschwitz. Later, the Lebovitzes took the whole family to Poland and Israel, as seeing is so much more powerful than hearing. Sharon and Jamie are grateful that Mona lived long enough to share her amazing life story with her grandchildren, recently passing away at age 101.

While neither Sharon nor Jamie grew up in families with the capacity to give as much money as they would have liked to charitable organizations, their parents taught them that giving what you can is both a responsibility and a mitzvah. They have passed these values on to Jordan and their daughters, Jessica and Jennifer. Knowing that direct experience can be very powerful, when their children were younger, Sharon and Jamie would take them to toy stores during the holiday season to pick out numerous toys and deliver them to homeless shelters, where they learned that most children did not receive multiple gifts for Christmas or Chanukah. As they did these acts of kindness, they could not be sure that their children fully understood, but Sharon and Jamie are now seeing the results of their effort. For instance, Jessica and her husband, Zach, have already volunteered at Jewish Family Service Association with their three-year-old twins, introducing them to the same important Jewish values.

Sharon and Jamie are so grateful for the ability to give generously to the organizations they care about, including the Federation and Park Synagogue. They see it as a privilege and another way in which they do “everything for the kids,” their grandkids and future generations. For the Lebovitzes, “the kids” they do everything for includes all of the children in our Cleveland Jewish community and Israel. Recently, they decided to create a legacy commitment at the Federation that will endow their campaign gifts and permanently provide a growing distribution to the Campaign for Jewish Needs. Their gift also includes a Lion of Judah Endowment in Sharon’s name. As Silver Circle members (donors who have given for 25 years or more), they felt that it was important to guarantee that when they can no longer give, their legacy gift will continue their commitment to the Campaign.

As another natural step to pass on their values, Sharon and Jamie opened a Donor Advised Fund at the Federation. For now, they actively make grants to the charities of their choice, but their intention is to provide a vehicle for their children and grandchildren to carry on their philanthropic values. They provided testamentary recommendations giving their three adult children the privilege to make grants from the fund during their lifetimes. Sharon and Jamie hope that they will share the experience and choose charities together. And most recently, Sharon and Jamie established a Charitable Remainder Trust for the benefit of the Jewish community.

Starting as young parents, Sharon and Jamie taught their children about tzedakah, gratitude, and personal responsibility. Now grandparents, they continue to celebrate and honor their own parents’ different lives and histories with a commitment to teaching these shared values through their actions. By creating endowment funds that guarantee perpetual giving, they are role models not only for their own family, but for the whole community.

Learn More: Federation, Philanthropy