Ohio Jewish leader cited by John Kasich for Holocaust memorial role

by | May 6, 2016 | Obituaries

Joyce Garver Keller, the longtime executive director of Ohio’s Jewish community relations council who helped establish a state Holocaust memorial, has died at 68.

On Monday, May 2, less than two weeks before she was scheduled to be honored at a Jewish Council for Public Affairs event in Cleveland, Keller died at her home in suburban Columbus. No cause of death was reported.

According to the Cleveland Jewish News, Keller served 25 years at Ohio Jewish Communities, which represents the state’s Jewish federations and their partner agencies in Washington and Ohio’s state capital, retiring last June.

Keller also worked behind the scenes to bring the Ohio Holocaust and Liberators Memorial at the Ohio Statehouse to fruition. Designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, the $2.1 million memorial was unveiled in June 2014.

Keller raised private donations for the memorial and helped advance the project, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

In a statement provided to the Dispatch, Ohio Gov. John Kasich called Keller’s death “a deep personal loss for me and for so many others in Ohio who valued her friendship and have long admired her leadership.”

“I will forever be grateful for her essential role in helping make the Ohio Holocaust and Liberators Memorial a reality,” said Kasich, a Republican presidential candidate. “Her dedication to the Jewish community, as well as her understanding of the importance of leading lives of commitment to values larger than ourselves, is a model for us all.”

Mitchell Levine, Keller’s rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in Columbus, told the Cleveland Jewish News that Keller “had a lot of spirit and a lot of energy, so it’s a huge shock, and her loss will be felt in virtually every corner of Ohio.”

Howie Beigelman, Keller’s successor at Ohio Jewish Communities, told the Jewish News: “She was a mentor to so many people in and out of Ohio in the community advocacy field, and a guide to so many public officials in understanding our community and working with our community. Everything we do each day is based on the foundation she laid.”

Keller is survived by her husband, Steven, a son and three grandchildren. (JTA)