Louis Sapolsky, known to most as “Buddy”, passed away on Sept. 3 at the age of 77. His impact on the Baltimore Jewish community is undeniable — Sapolsky served as the president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Baltimore from 1995 to 2012, in addition to his prior work at JCC locations in Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Miami.
In the wake of his death, the JCC of Greater Baltimore published a statement of Facebook remembering Sapolsky as a “consummate community leader, friend, and a mentor and supervisor to many Jewish communal professionals both in Baltimore and nationally.” The Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC’s “Sapolsky Circle” is named in his honor.
The post disclosed that he had been struggling with significant health issues over the past few months. His funeral was held at Beth El Congregation on Sept. 7, with contributions going to the Buddy Sapolsky Jewish Community Center Endowed Fund for Professional Excellence, which was founded when he retired and helps to support JCC staff training and professional development.
Sapolsky leaves behind a legacy of volunteerism and community outreach, and was a beloved figure at the JCC. Melissa Seltzer, the senior director of arts and culture at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, recalls something he told her when she was starting out.
“Buddy mentioned to me that he parked in the furthest spot in the parking lot so all of the members could have the most convenient spaces. That’s who Buddy was,” she said. “He truly cared about member and guest experiences and inspired the next generation to care for this community.”
While working at the Baltimore JCC, Sapolsky was responsible for programs that helped put the center on the map, including a 50th anniversary celebration for Israel and a joint Maccabi Games and Maccabi ArtsFest — the first to be hosted simultaneously at a JCC. A 2012 Baltimore Jewish Times article celebrating his retirement noted that there were 8,000 members at the JCC when he started working there, a number that had increased to 17,000 when he retired at 68.
One of the people he supervised was Senior Director of Fitness and Wellness Amy Schwartz, who met him before she started working for the JCC. She taught a cycling class, which Sapolsky attended the day before her interview for the organization. When she was interviewing with Dale Busch, the associate executive director at the time, Sapolsky walked into the room.
“He looked at me, pointed and yelled ‘YOU!’,” Schwartz said. “At that point I was sure I wasn’t getting the job. He said, ‘Everyone in class knew who I was, so I couldn’t leave! I’m very active … but that class was brutal!’ I did get the job, and the rest is history.”
Schwartz also makes a point of his commitment to inclusion and diversity at the JCC. Her son, Morgan, is disabled, and during his time as president and CEO, Sapolsky and Busch helped to make their programs inclusive for disabled JCC members like him.
Even after he retired from the JCC, Sapolsky continued to help his community by serving as a paid consultant for various community organizations, such as being a liaison to the Orthodox community for Sinai Hospital. He also served on the board of the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training, work he described as “heartwarming” in a 2017 JMORE profile.
“I spent a lot of time with Buddy,” said David Max, a former chair of the JCC board. “He was really a good person. He was the person that everyone respected, that everyone in the community trusted and trusted his judgment. He was able to really put people together in a room and have good conversations.
“I kept telling him, ‘Whatever you think I gave to you, I got twice as much back.’ I felt like I became a better person because of him,” Max added. “He was a really wonderful person, and we’ll all miss him.”
Correction 9/16: Melissa Seltzer’s name was incorrectly spelled as “Marisa”.