August 12, 2004
Former B'nai B'rith International President, Dies at 86
Jack Spitzer, an international Jewish leader and prominent Mercer Island banker and philanthropist, died Saturday, July 31) after suffering a cardiac arrest several days earlier. He was 86.
An Israeli university, King County libraries, black South Africans who wanted to become doctors -- all benefited greatly from Spitzer's generosity.
He served four years as international president of B'nai B'rith, the Jewish cultural and service organization. He led the first delegation of international Jewish leaders to visit Egypt. He was the only Jew in the U.S. delegation to Rome when Pope John Paul II was inaugurated. He served as a public delegate to the United Nations General Assembly.
Spitzer consorted with presidents. But he also washed dishes at Seattle hospitals on Christmas so Christian workers could take the day off.
"I have a philosophy very compatible with being a banker," he told a Seattle Times reporter in 1994. "I believe that people should pay their debts. My debt to society is so great that if I were to live 100 years I could not completely begin to repay it."
He was born in New York City and moved to California with his family during the Depression. He graduated from high school when he was 15 and from UCLA when he was 18. While in college, he joined Aleph Zadik Aleph, the young men's arm of the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization. Four years later, he was elected the group's international president.
Spitzer worked as a field director for B'nai B'rith, then served as an Army finance officer in India during World War II. After the war he was associate director of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, then joined his father in the commercial real-estate business in California in the early 1950s.
He also served as first vice chairman of the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee.
Spitzer, who moved to Seattle in 1972 and purchaed, Security Savings and Loan. Over the next few years he restored the troubled institution to profitability. He served on the board of United Way and quickly became a fixture in Seattle's Jewish community. He helped Seattle and Beer Sheva, Israel, become sister cities.
A lifetime of service to B'nai B'rith culminated in Mr. Spitzer's election to the international organization's presidency in 1978. He sold Security Savings, relocated to Washington, D.C., and traveled extensively over the next four years, promoting both a strong Israel and peace in the Middle East.
He was a guest when leaders of Israel and Egypt signed a historic peace agreement on the White House lawn in 1979. He developed a warm relationship with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat; when B'nai B'rith honored Mr. Spitzer at a Seattle dinner in 1998, Sadat's widow was the keynote speaker.
When Spitzer stepped down from the B'nai B'rith presidency in 1982, the organization named him honorary president for life.
After his stint at B'nai B'rith, Mr. Spitzer returned to the Seattle area and started Covenant Mortgage of Mercer Island. He served on the board of the King County Library System Foundation.
He was a major benefactor of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, serving on its board of governors. He co-founded Medical Education for South African Blacks (MESAB), the largest source of private aid for students of color preparing for health-care careers in South Africa.
He also became a fiercely competitive table-tennis player.
This year, Spitzer and his wife, Charlotte, were among the state's top 10 political contributors.
"I have no budget," Spitzer said last month when asked about the contributions. "I give in response to people. Perhaps more than I should."
He is survived by his wife, Charlotte; and son, Rob; daughter, Jil Spitzer-Fox; and seven grandchildren.
The family suggests gifts to a favorite cause, or to the B'nai B'rith Foundation of the U.S., American Friends of Ben-Gurion University, re: Spitzer School of Social Work, or the King County Library System Foundation. -- Seattle Times