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H. Irwin Levy, founder of Century Village and patriarch of Jewish community, passes away at 97

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (August 3, 2023) --- One of the most impactful individuals in the history of the Palm Beaches, Israel and on global Jewry, H. Irwin Levy passed away at the age of 97 on July 31, 2023, in West Palm Beach, Fla. surrounded by his loving family. He was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, visionary businessman and the patriarch of the Palm Beaches’ Jewish community.

Born in 1926 and raised in Scranton, PA., Irwin enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1944. Following the war, he obtained a bachelor’s degree from Penn State University, going on to attend Cornell University law school. After marrying Jeanne Siskin, Irwin recognized a promising future in Florida and decided to complete his final year of law school at the University of Miami Law School where he earned his Juris Doctorate.  He became a member of the Florida and the Palm Beach County Bar and remained a member for 70 years. Throughout his esteemed legal career, Irwin gained recognition as a prominent lawyer, showcasing his expertise by successfully arguing cases before the U.S. and Florida Supreme Courts. He also handled major business and real estate restructurings and took companies public. Levy also formed a renowned law firm in Palm Beach that continued long after he stopped actively practicing law in 1969.

Irwin and his first wife, Jeanne (who passed away in 1990), relocated to the Palm Beaches in 1951. Driven by his visionary mindset and professional talents, Irwin embarked on a groundbreaking endeavor by establishing Cenvill Communities and developing Century Village in West Palm Beach. This landmark project sparked a new industry and fueled a population boom, particularly among the Jewish community. He was CEO and chairman of the board of Cenvill Communities Inc. from 1969. Irwin’s ambition led him to build three additional Century Village properties and Wynmoor Village. Cenvill was the largest builder of condominiums in the U.S., responsible for the creation and management of more than 37,000 homes across South Florida.

Through his unparalleled foresight and innovative thinking, in partnership with his late wife Jeanne S. Levy, Irwin played a pivotal role in transforming the Palm Beaches into a thriving Jewish community.  Their efforts extended beyond the local community through their deep commitment to support millions around the globe.

Irwin and Jeanne were devoted parents to their two children, while also taking on the roles of “parents” of Jewish Palm Beach by establishing a network of Jewish organizations to support the community. Irwin was a founding leader of Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, the Mandel Jewish Community Center, Meyer Jewish Preparatory School, Joseph L. Morse Geriatric Center, The Kravis Center and Palm Beach Fellowship of Christians and Jews. He was a past president of Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach and a member and supporter of Temple Emanu-El in Palm Beach as well as continuing the legacy of his own father, Jacob Levy, with support for Temple Israel in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Michael Hoffman, president and CEO of Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, shared, “Irwin was a trailblazer and pioneer of this community. He exhibited brilliant vision, selfless leadership, savvy business skills, and overwhelming kindness and generosity throughout his lifetime. It was his unequaled foresight and ingenuity that built what we have here today in the Palm Beaches, one of the most thriving local Jewish communities in the world.”

Irwin was also a fervent supporter of Israel. He was directly responsible for securing $1.6 billion in U.S. grants to rescue nearly one million persecuted Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia to Israel. Irwin’s passionate involvement extended to global organizations such as National United Jewish Appeal (UJA), United Israel Appeal (UIA), The Jewish Agency for Israel, American Friends of Hebrew University, City of David in Jerusalem, and the renowned think tank The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Additionally, he and his first wife created the Jeanne and Irwin Levy Day Care Center in Hod Hasharon, Israel, leaving a lasting impact on the lives of young children in the region.

“Irwin’s vision and his contributions of time and resources to the Jewish Agency and the global Jewish people have been inspiring,” shared Amira Ahronoviz, Director General and CEO, The Jewish Agency for Israel. “His staunch advocacy to support global Jewry assured the Aliyah of tens of thousands of olim (immigrants) from the Former Soviet Union to Israel, while in his local community, he transformed Palm Beach into a thriving Jewish community with a flourishing Federation and imparted his love for Israel to his children and grandchildren.”

Natan Sharansky, the legendary refusenik and Soviet political prisoner who went on to become deputy prime minister of Israel and chair of The Jewish Agency, added, Irwin’s “initiative helped persuade leaders in the United States to actively support the rescue and absorption of nearly a million Jews.”

Irwin Levy's remarkable accomplishments garnered widespread recognition and acclaim, earning him numerous prestigious accolades in the Jewish community. In 1996, Irwin was honored with the prestigious title of “Man of the Century,” by the Palm Beach Jewish Times. He received the National Scopus Award from the American Friends of Hebrew University, Visionary Leadership Award from The Jewish Agency for Israel, and the John C. Randolph Award from the Palm Beach Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The Historical Society of Palm Beach County recently showcased an exhibit to Irwin and his family highlighting their significant contributions.

His immediate family, including his wife, Ellen, son Mark F. Levy, daughter Lynn L. Peseckis, daughter-in-law Stacey K. Levy and son-in-law, Frank Peseckis, continue his legacy of leadership.  

Irwin married Ellen Schwartz in 1994 and was a devoted husband and stepfather to Ellen’s children and her grandchildren.  He is also survived by his daughter and son-in-law Lynn Levy Peseckis and Frank Peseckis of Singer Island, Fla.; his son and daughter-in-law Mark F. Levy and Stacey K. Levy of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; grandchildren Noah Peseckis of Jupiter, Fla. and Sara (Lawrence) Peseckis of Greenwood Village, Colo.; Jourdan (John) Levy Bizanes of Jupiter, Fla. and Joshua Levy of New York City; great-grandchildren Liam, Evan and Ari Peseckis and William and Blake Bizanes; and Ellen’s children Adam (Lauren) Schwartz and Lara Lerner and their seven children. He is also survived by two sisters in law, Lillian and Ceil Levy, brother-in-law Phillip Siskin and his wife Leah Siskin and many loving nieces and nephews, grand nieces and nephews.  He was predeceased by his four brothers, Bernard, Myron, Benjamin and Robert Levy.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County at 1 Harvard Cir., Ste 100, West Palm Beach, FL 33409 or 561.242.6618., or The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1111 19th Street NW - Suite 500, Washington D.C. 20036.

About Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County

Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County serves as the "City Hall" of the Jewish community of the Palm Beaches, impacting the local community, Israel and 70 countries around the world. Powered by the generosity, leadership and volunteerism of community members, Federation works with a network of partners and programs to address causes that affect the Jewish community at home and across the globe. Visit jewishpb.org for more.