The Passing of a Legend: H. Irwin Levy, 1926-2023

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

Born in 1926 and raised in Scranton, Penn., Irwin joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1944. After the war, he attended and graduated from Penn State University, going on to attend law school at Cornell University and after his marriage to his first wife, Jeanne Siskin (who passed away in 1990), seeing that Florida had a booming future, Irwin transferred to the University of Miami Law School for his final year receiving his Juris Doctorate. Irwin and Jeanne moved to the Palm Beaches in 1951. Irwin became a member of the Florida Bar and the Palm Beach County Bar and remained a member for 70 years. He was a lawyer of great renown. He handled major business and real estate restructurings and took several companies public. He formed a renowned law firm in Palm Beach that continued long after he stopped actively practicing law in 1969.

Irwin’s vision and professional talents inspired him to found Cenvill Communities and develop Century Village in West Palm Beach, a landmark project that sparked a new industry and a population boom, particularly among the Jewish community. He was CEO and chairman of the board of Cenvill Communities, Inc. from 1969 on. With Irwin as the driving force, Cenvill went on to build three more Century Village properties, as well as Wynmoor Village. Cenvill was the largest builder of condominiums in the U.S. at one point and built 37,000 homes across South Florida.

Irwin, in partnership with his late wife, Jeanne S. Levy, helped build the Palm Beaches into a thriving Jewish community and supported millions around the globe. Irwin and Jeanne were dedicated parents to their two children, Mark and Lynn, while 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 for the Performing Arts, and Palm Beach Fellowship of Christians and Jews. He was a past president of Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach a member and supporter of Temple Emanu-El in Palm Beach, and, continuing the legacy of his father, Jacob Levy, supported Temple Israel in Scranton, Penn.

Irwin married Ellen Zavell Schwartz in 1994, and together they made multiple significant contributions to the Kravis Center, the Promise Fund of Florida, The Society of the Four Arts and MorseLife Health System, among many other charities.

Irwin was also a fervent supporter of Israel. He was directly responsible for securing $1.6 billion in U.S. grants to The United Israel Appeal for The Jewish Agency for Israel to rescue nearly one million persecuted Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia as they relocated to Israel. He was passionately involved with National United Jewish Appeal (UJA), United Israel Appeal (UIA), The Jewish Agency for Israel, American Friends of Hebrew University, City of David in Jerusalem, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and, with Jeanne, created the Jeanne and Irwin Levy Daycare Center at Hod Hasharon.

His devoted immediate family – Irwin’s 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 was honored with nearly every recognition possible in the Jewish community. In 1996, the Palm Beach Jewish Times named Irwin “Man of the Century.” He received the National Scopus Award from the American Friends of Hebrew University, the Visionary Leadership Award from The Jewish Agency for Israel, and the John C. Randolph Award from the Palm Beach Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Irwin and his family were the subjects of a recent exhibit mounted by the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

Irwin is survived by Ellen; daughter and son-in-law Lynn Levy Peseckis and Frank Peseckis of Singer Island, Fla.; 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; loving stepfather and grandfather to Ellen’s children Adam (Lauren) Schwartz, Lara Lerner and their seven children. He is also survived by two sisters in law, Lillian and Ceil Levy, brother-in-law Phillip (Leah) Siskin and his many beloved nieces, nephews, grand nieces and grandnephews.  He was predeceased by his four brothers, Bernard, Myron, Benjamin and Robert Levy.

Irwin’s funeral will take place on Thursday, August 3, at 11 a.m. at Temple Emanu-El of Palm Beach.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, 1 Harvard Circle, Ste. 100, West Palm Beach, FL 33409; The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1111 19th Street NW – Suite 500, Washington D.C. 20036; or Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, 57 West 57th Street, Suite 904, New York, NY 10019.

May Irwin’s memory be for a blessing.