The Chair of the Board of the JGH Foundation reflects on a lifetime of philanthropy

Harvey Levenson’s commitment to philanthropy dates to the time he was a McGill student in the early 1960s. Back then, he served as Chair of the University’s Red Feather Campaign, which later came to be known as Centraide.

“My fellow students and I went into the most challenged areas of Montreal knocking on doors, collecting coins and small donations,” he recalls. ”We were raising literally nickels, dimes and quarters from some of the poorer areas of the city.”

Levenson, who is 79 years of age, is Chair of the Board of the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) Foundation. He remains a committed volunteer and philanthropist to this day. In past he has been actively involved in many fundraising initiatives through the JGH Foundation, which includes co-chairing the Power to Heal campaign from 2011 to 2017. The campaign surpassed its ambitious $250 million goal by $10 million.

Come September 29, 2022, he will be completing his three-year tenure as Chair of the Board to focus his energy on his business.

“I’m not retiring yet,” he said emphatically. “I come to work every day, five days a week and the JGH Foundation is an important part of my communal life.”

Looking back on the Weekend to End Breast Cancer

Levenson looks back with fondness on his work at the JGH Foundation. He co-chaired the JGH’s Weekend to End Breast Cancer in 2008 and was deeply moved by what he witnessed.

“Over 10,000 people came to the close of that walk to support the survivors of breast cancer – that includes children and grandchildren,” Levenson said. “There was nothing in my life at that point that was as emotional.”

“It really got into my soul,” he continued. “Maybe that’s what hooked me to get more actively involved with the Board of the JGH Foundation.”

When Levenson did eventually take on the role of Chair of the Board ten years later, circumstances would prove to shift unexpectedly.

The onset of the pandemic

It was October 2019 when Levenson became Chair of the Board, not long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. The pandemic has been an ever-present challenge for him.

“Every one of our board meetings has been on Zoom,” Levenson said. “We tried as best as possible to engage, but you can’t get the same kind of interaction.”

Though Levenson laments the spontaneity that was lost in meetings, a lot was accomplished nonetheless. As Chair of the Board, he has contributed to overseeing several major fundraising initiatives.

These include the close to $6 million raised for the Centre of Excellence in Infectious Disease in 2021, which focuses on advancing knowledge of antibiotics and vaccines, preventing infections, developing rapid diagnostics and mapping the molecular structure of infections.

During Levenson’s time as Chair, donors also gave $5.6 million to the JGH Foundation for the fight against COVID-19, and $5 million was similarly raised for the renovation of the JGH’s Psychiatry Inpatient Unit in 2020.

The ongoing fundraising initiative for “digital health” has been front and center over the past year of Levenson’s tenure. With associated fundraising campaigns like Philippa’s Garden of Life, in which a gorgeously crafted installation was set up in Pavilion K in 2021, the cause has made tremendous strides at the JGH.

One example of the advances being made is the Hospital@Home program, which allows eligible patients to be monitored remotely from the comfort of their homes. There is also the Command Centre, which brings together real-time data, advanced technology and predictive software to provide a panoramic view of healthcare activities at the JGH and beyond.

Embracing diversity and the principle of Tzedakah

One of the important mandates Levenson has pushed during his time at the JGH Foundation has been diversity, as the JGH caters not only to the Jewish community but to all of Montreal, as well as the province of Quebec.

“Our board has become far more diversified than it ever was, and will only continue to diversify in gender, language and religion,” he said. “The JGH is in one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in all of Canada. The goal of the JGH Foundation is to continue growing our donor base across Montreal.”

He credits two of the major pillars in Judaism with guiding his life: Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam. Tzedakah is the Hebrew word for the act of giving charity. Tikkun Olam is the act of helping to repair the world.

“The Jewish General Hospital is a misnomer in terms of our patients, but certainly not in terms of the Jewish tradition of charitable giving,” Levenson said. “The hospital is the gift of the Jewish community of Montreal to the people of Montreal and Quebec.”

A history of giving

Levenson’s philanthropy has a history that goes beyond his work with the JGH Foundation. He was also General Campaign Chairman of the Combined Jewish Appeal in 1994, and he served as President of The Jewish Community Foundation from 1996-1998.

Levenson’s philanthropic work has been recognized time and time again. He won the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee medal in 2012, the Allan Bronfman Distinguished Leadership Award in 2014, the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ Outstanding Volunteer Award in 2018, the Jewish Community Foundation’s Person of the Year Award in 2019, and the Samuel Bronfman award in 2020.

Family first

The support of Levenson’s family is central to his work, both in his business and his philanthropy.

“My best supporter is my wife,” he said. “I will have been married 32 years. I have a son and three daughters. We have ten grandchildren between us.”

Though Levenson’s tenure as Chair will be coming to a close at the end of September, his work at the JGH Foundation is not over, as it has made an indelible impression on him.

“It’s been a wonderful ride,” he said. “It really has. The people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made have been fantastic.”

To make a donation to the Jewish General Hospital Foundation, go to