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Philanthropist, Communal Activist Phil Lindy Dies at 83

July 1, 2013 By:
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Phil Lindy (center) was honored by Hillel at its Vision and Values Gala last month. The award was presented by John Fry (left), Drexel University president, and Rabbi Howard Alpert, executive director of Hillel of Greater Philadelphia.

There was something about neigh­borhood and community that Phil Lindy couldn’t resist. They appealed to his sense of roots and honor as he built a lifetime forging ties with family and with strangers who became close enough to seem like family.

Lindy, a much-respected philanthropist and real estate titan, died in the early morning of June 29 after suffering from a heart attack. The 83-year-old Center City resident died with family and friends surrounding him.

Dubbed by many “The Pied Piper,” he was remembered as a man whose community stretched from the West Phila­delphia he served as patron Jewish saint to the extended Jewish community whose spirit and resources he lifted as a generous donor.

His son, Alan, compared his dad’s larger-than-life kinship with strangers to that of Bill Clinton. He recalled with a chuckle how his father and mother, the late Annabel (Rusty), who predeceased Phil in 2010, “would get on an elevator, and by the time they got off, they had invited everyone on the elevator to their seder.”

For a man who covered so much ground in his life, West Philadelphia was never far from his thoughts. Indeed, in 2011, he donated $15 million to Drexel University in a long-range project devoted to enhancing a healthier lifestyle for West Philly residents — the Lindy Neighbors Program — and to growing the business climate in the area.

The project led to the establishment of the Lindy Center for Civic Engagement, which encourages students and Drexel faculty to embrace worldwide perspectives in the ways local communal problems can be handled and resolved.

This vision also grew out of another earlier commitment to Drexel that he founded and funded: The Lindy Scholars project joined Drexel students as mentors and tutors to West Philadelphia middle school students.

West Philadelphia was not Lindy’s only communal concern, reflected in his ongoing commitment to the Jewish community and its growth.

He was a member of the board of trustees of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia for some two de­cades, beginning in the 1990s. He also was involved in the Federation’s Building Trades Division.

Lindy also concerned himself with what happened to his fellow Jews overseas: He and his late wife made many trips to the Soviet Un­ion in support of refuseniks during the height of the Soviet Jewry campaign. They also took part in missions to Israel sponsored by the Federation.

Federation President Sherrie R. Savett described Lindy as “one of the most warm, vibrant and passionate individuals I have had the pleasure to know.” She added: “He gave generously of his funds and his personal time to Jewish causes he believed in.” 

Savett emphasized that Lindy “particularly enjoyed helping young people creatively connect with Judaism through programs like Tribe 12,” which he served as board president, “and the Collaborative,” a program of Tribe 12. Both target engagement of Jews in their 20s and 30s.

Phil and Annabel Lindy were instrumental in bringing the Jewish Limmud experience to the city, having attended Limmud in Germany in 2007. Shortly after, they established LimmudPhilly, an annual volunteer-run weekend immersion in Jewish learning.

Ross Berkowitz, founder and executive director of Tribe 12, which now runs LimmudPhilly, recalled that Annabel Lindy, a major booster, had died shortly before the group was able to get on its feet in 2010, but “Phil stepped in not only as board president, but as my partner, mentor and friend.”

He “gave of himself in every way — because that was Phil. When asked what someone can do to repay him, he said, simply, ‘Teach someone else what I taught you.’ What we can do is ensure that his legacy endures by simply being like Phil. 

“It is not an easy path to follow,” said Berkowitz, “but few are more worthy." 

Lindy also was heavily involved in the board of the former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia and was the president of the Gershman Y at the time of his death. Noted Judge Anne Lazarus, vice chair of the Gershman Y board: “It is a good thing that Phil was as big as he was since most of it was made up of heart. He was one of the last of the real Jewish philanthropists. Phil Lindy also understood that arts and cultural programming such as that at the Gershman Y feeds the Jewish soul and appeals to Jews of all denominations and that there needs to be a place in the community for Jews to come together, celebrate and find joy in our heritage. “

He served on the board of the local chapter of the American Jewish Committee — which also honored him for his service during the ’90s at a special dinner — and the National Liberty Museum.

His other board involvements included Fellowship Farm, Habitat for Humanity and Ameinu, an organization devoted to progressive Zionism. He was on the board of the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences, headquarters of the Philip and Annabel Lindy Research Fund. 

Lindy also was a founding member of Temple University’s Center for American Jewish History.

He served on the board of the area Home Builders Association as well as the Apartment Association, of which he also was president in the late 1980s. He was honored with many awards in his field of real estate.

Last month, he was saluted by Hillel of Greater Philadelphia at its Vision and Values Gala. 

There was truly good reason for the award, noted Rabbi Howard Alpert, executive director of the group. He said both Phil and Annabel Lindy “modeled the qualities of humble leadership and strategic philanthropy (in its literal meaning of “love of mankind”) which Hillel desires for its students. His philanthropy was motivated by a passion for his fellow beings and a desire to see them prosper.”

Just weeks before his death, Lindy received a major honor he hadn’t even known he was nominated for: He was named 2013 Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

With all the accolades and tributes, said his son, Lindy always appeared stunned to be receiving such honors. “He was always surprised,” recalled Alan Lindy. “His reaction on receiving an award” and hearing praise attendant to the honor “was always, ‘Who is this man? I’d like to meet him.’ ”

Lindy’s extraordinary communal commitments all came down to what only can be called the Lindy theory of philanthropy: “You take $100. You give away $20,” he told an Inquirer reporter in 2011. “You get for that $20 the friendship of the people who implement the use of the money that you give; you gain the connection of the people who are involved in giving monies to other people … and for some magical reason because people like you … the till fills up to $100 again and sometimes more than $100.”

And like him they did. At news of Lindy’s death, the Germantown Cricket Club, of which he was a longtime member, lowered its flag to half-mast.

In addition to son Alan, he is survived by a daughter, Elaine; another son, Frank; his companion, Joan Brandeis; two brothers, Robert and Jack (he was predeceased by his brother, Alan); and eight grandchildren. 

Contributions in his name can be made to After School Activities Partnership (the Philadelphia Chess Challenge), 1520 Locust St., Suite 1104, Philadelphia PA 19102; or Tribe 12, c/o Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, 2100 Arch St., Philadelphia PA 19103.

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