Opinion | Remembering Irving Joseph Abramowitz

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Irving Joseph Abramowitz
Irving Joseph Abramowitz (Courtesy of Abramowitz family)

By Alan A. and Janet M. Abramowitz

Our father and father-in-law, Irving Joseph Abramowitz, a World War II veteran and Baltimore City native, died of complications of congestive heart failure in Jerusalem on May 10 at 95. He was the son of J Max Abramowitz, a lawyer and insurance salesman, and his wife Frieda. He attended the Talmudical Academy where his grandfather was one of his teachers. He went on to graduate from City College High School in 1943. The summer after high school, he attended Strayer Business School (now Strayer University) and learned how to type. This was very useful when he was drafted at the end of the year.


He spent his war service in Nome, Alaska, where it was cold, boring and there was nothing to fear but the polar bears. But he thanked God every day that there was no one firing at him. Due to his assignment and location, he was the first person in North America to get the news that World War II was over. He decoded the message as it made its way across the world.

After his war service, he attended Johns Hopkins University, where he met Grace Zerivitz. They married in 1951. He began his working life selling insurance with his father. He worked his way up the ladder until he became the agency head of the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company office in Baltimore City. At this time, he was the only Jewish, let alone Orthodox, agency head in the country and remained so for many years. Even with a full work schedule my father managed to be involved in numerous communal activities. He was on the boards of several day schools as well as the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund, working his way up to the role of campaign chairman. When he became campaign chair there had not been an Orthodox person in that position in more than five decades. Whenever he had a spare moment during the day he could be found at his desk making fundraising phone calls for one of the many organizations he supported. Several of his co-workers cited that example as their introduction to community involvement.


In 1983, he and Grace fulfilled their lifetime goal of moving to Israel, where they continued their communal work. They met many people including David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and many others. They opened their home to visitors from the U.S., organized tours and college students studying in Israel. They enjoyed being full-time “Bubbie and Grandpa” to their own grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but also to many children with whom they had no biological connection.

During shiva, it was heartwarming to hear from people who had stories to tell about him. How he was a mentor to them when they were starting out in the insurance business, or how welcome they felt at home in the Abramowitz home in Jerusalem when they were so far from their own homes.

He was known for his hobby of antiquing, specifically collecting Judaica, something he learned from his parents. He was able to continue this pastime during his retirement in Israel. Most Tuesdays he could be found in Tel Aviv at the Jaffa Flea Market, the Craft Fair or visiting Rechnitzer’s Antique shop or any number of craftsmen with whom he became acquainted over the years. Friends of all ages and grandchildren loved to accompany him whenever they could and usually came home with some “amazing” find.

He learned early in his life about the importance of family. As a child during the Depression, his home included parents and four grandparents living together to make ends meet. Even while raising his own family he would visit his parents several times a week. As mobility became difficult in recent years, my parents reaped what they sowed. Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were frequent visitors to their apartment.

May his memory always be for a blessing.

Alan A. and Janet M. Abramowitz are fourth-generation Baltimoreans.

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