In Memoriam: Joseph Smukler

Philadelphia Legend Joe Smukler Dies

July 18, 2012 - Lisa Hostein, Executive Editor

Joseph Smukler Before he died, when he knew his end was drawing near, Joseph Smukler told his rabbi that he wanted lots of people to attend his funeral.

He got that wish.

The cavernous Main Line sanctuary at Har Zion Temple was filled to capacity as hundreds poured out on a hot summer Sunday to mourn and honor a longtime pillar of the Philadelphia Jewish community.

Smukler, who died on Friday, July 13, from heart failure at age 84, was remembered as a community activist, philanthropist, lawyer, poet, tennis partner, family man and all-around mensch.

Citing the heroics of Joe and his wife, Connie, in their efforts to free Soviet Jewry, Dr. D. Walter Cohen eulogized him as the "finest example of tikkun olam, for which the entire Jewish world is grateful."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called him "a gift and a blessing to the Jewish community in Philadelphia, in America, in Israel and beyond."

"Joe Smukler's loving family, his numerous friends and the local and global Jewish community have suffered a deep loss," Ira M. Schwartz, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said upon hearing of Smukler's death. "But we can all draw comfort from the knowledge that his presence will be felt for generations because of the lives he touched. He was a role model to so many of us -- a great, kind and generous man."

Smukler wore many communal titles over his lifetime. He was a past chairman of the board of Federation and a recipient of the 2003 Avodat HaKodesh Community Award, Federation's highest honor. He served as vice president of the National Museum of American Jewish History, honorary president of Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council, a vice chair of the Anti-Defamation League and a founding board member of the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, which is trying to develop a Holocaust educational center at the site of the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

In a recent interview in the Jewish Exponent, Smukler recalled the April 1964 dedication of that memorial as a highlight of his Jewish involvement.

In that same interview, Connie lovingly joked about their "mixed marriage," with him growing up in the heavily Jewish section of Strawberry Mansion and she in an assimilated family in Narberth.

Loving partners in so many of their communal endeavors, they overcame those differences in background and forged ahead with their efforts on behalf of Jews around the world and at home. They were honored for their lifetime achievements on behalf of the Jewish community during a festive concert and reception at the Kimmel Center in February 2011.

Please also read:
"Death of a Soviet Jewry Activist":

"How The Holocaust Influenced One Man's Struggle For Soviet Jewry":