Leon Oliwkowicz donated a Torah scroll in 2019 to the Lubavitch Mesivta (High School) of Chicago.
Leon Oliwkowicz donated a Torah scroll in 2019 to the Lubavitch Mesivta (High School) of Chicago.

Leon Oliwkowicz, 81, and Ruth Oliwkowicz, 74, were among the first victims to have been confirmed by authorities as having been killed in the tragic Champlain Towers collapse in Surfside, Fla. Originally from Venezuela, the couple moved to Florida in recent years to be near their children, who had moved to the United States.

Rabbi Moshe B. Perlstein, dean of the Lubavitch Mesivta of Chicago, says that the couple had an air of modest sophistication about them. Leon Oliwkowicz, a businessman and entrepreneur in Venezuela, was a very upbeat person and took tremendous pride from watching his children and grandchildren thrive. “He was extremely giving and was always looking to help a fellow human being.”

Mrs. Leah Rivka Perlstein, principal emeritus at Cheder Lubavitch Girls School of Chicago, says that Ruth Oliwkowicz was a very refined, unassuming woman who “wasn’t looking to be in the limelight. She was dedicated to her children and grandchildren and loved spending quality time with them when she visited Chicago.”

Noting that Leon Oliwkowicz proudly spoke an impeccable Yiddish, the rabbi says: “I couldn’t quite keep up with his Yiddish, the vocabulary that he used was so sophisticated.”

In 2019, the Oliwkowiczes donated a Torah scroll to the Mesivta where their son-in-law and daughter, Rabbi Bezalel and Leah Fouhal, are active supporters. At the event, celebrated with a grand procession in the West Rogers Park neighborhood, Mr. Oliwkowicz spoke in Yiddish, blessing the participants with continued health and longevity. “Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) lived until 120 ripe years of age,” he joked.

Rabbi Levi Stern, a teacher at the Lubavitch Mesivta, had the opportunity to get to know Leon Oliwkowitz when he had stayed at the Stern’s home in Chicago: “He was a varemer Yid (warm-hearted Jew),” he says. “He had a sense of pride when he spoke Yiddish and was pleased to see that we spoke Yiddishin our home. He had a quick witted sense of humor and always looked at others with a good eye.”

The Oliwkowiczes were members of The Shul of Bal Harbour.

They are survived by their children and their grandchildren.