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Kalman Levine: In Memoriam
Mom with a View

Kalman Levine: In Memoriam

Making the pain personal.


I had a good friend around 33 years ago. I say “had” not because there was any rift between us but circumstances and distance got in the way and we lost touch. There were no hard feelings and the good memories remain – of learning together in Jerusalem, of laughing together in Jerusalem, of the big cookies she always had in the glass jar on her counter, of the sheva brachos she and her then-husband hosted for us.

When we moved to Los Angeles, they had briefly preceded us and we took up residence in their apartment while looking for our own. I was newly expecting and nauseated and…well I’ll spare you the details…but she was a good hostess and a good friend. Like I said we lost touch but we kept the memories.

Some of the memories came rushing back to me last week when I read the news from Israel. My good friend had a brother, a brother whom she idolized. In her eyes (and in the eyes of all those who knew him it now seems), he was everything that was holy and good. He loved learning and communicated that enthusiasm to his sister. He was kind and righteous and her role model in all she sought to do. I never met him and I confess that I only listened with half an ear… I was engaged and a little distracted…

But I must have been listening more carefully than I thought because when I saw the name Kalman Levine on the news as one of the rabbis massacred in Har Nof, my heart leaped into my throat. I began a rapid internet search. Was this really him? Was this my friend’s brother, the one I had heard so much about over 30 years ago?

Indeed it was. I burst into tears. I never knew him. I barely listened when my friend talked and yet it all seemed so personal.

The death of each and every Jew is painful and personal – but it is more profound when we find that connection. It’s more real. It hurts more. Maybe it shouldn’t; maybe it should. I don’t know. I just know that it did.

At that moment, I had an experience of loss that ran deeper. I felt badly for Rabbi Levine and family, badly for my friend and badly for the whole Jewish people. And I also felt badly for myself, that I had never gotten to know him, never seen for myself what my friend praised and what others appreciated.

I can’t get that back. But I can change. I can make more of an effort to listen, more of an effort to get to know every human being – because everyone has a story and something to teach. I listened to the eulogy for Rabbi Twersky and again felt that sense of loss, not just of the gift that he was for the Jewish people but of the missed opportunity. I never met him. I never experienced his righteousness or his wisdom.

I can’t understand why the Jewish people had to experience so much pain. I can’t begin to fathom the Almighty’s ways – why these particular people at this particular time. All I can do is try to learn from it and make better choices going forward – to treat all those I meet with respect and dignity, to listen to their stories with compassion and understand and to get to know and learn from as many people as I can, the wise and famous and the more anonymous woman in the community.

I didn’t know Kalman Levine but I feel like I got a glimpse all those years ago of the man he would be and of the loss to our people. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion. (Shelley, this one’s for you.)

December 2, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 3

(3) erin, December 5, 2014 9:07 PM

I may have said this before, but it is because what I am comforted with in these times

HaShem knows He holds each of us in His Hand; He knows He can comfort someone that words can barely express,even in the darkest of hours,or our death.He knows He can take care of and reward generously those who trust Him to take care of them,and He knows those coming after these suffered souls left will be strengthened,and resolved,and resolute to carry on the very passage of things He is asking them to carry on through the wild waters of life.Waves are not from Him, but He allows them, knowing He is in control and can reward all persons, Manasseh; 'causing to forget'.it is in these times that we remember why Joseph named his beloved son Manasseh. He knew the relief of the pain of suffering from years of trial by the uplifting hand of the Almighty.The Almighty even relieves pain while we are being "pained". These men, who died an awful death,I'm sure they did not feel a thing and were filled with the bliss of HaShem so we could see them, and see their spirit poured out on the floor in their blood and remember He is God.They are okay. We are okay.And we are going to be okay,and not one day goes by that I don't know that because of the books of the Bible that show me so and the men and women on the front page of the newspapers.I remember,because of them, and I go on, this is the greatest accomplishment of their vine.To cause generations to go on,and it is with great honor that I think of their names and their smiles,because I know the Almighty has them in His hand, ready to come back,and rejoice in His Good deeds; Manasseh, causing to forget. But only causing to forget the things that hurt us,not the memories of His glory and how He saved us. He does it everyday,and while we may miss a chance to meet someone today I know we will meet them in a 'tomorrow',a 'tomorrow' that God has set aside free of all guilt and anxiety, to meet up and be with each other,for as long as we like. May you be blessed and be assured of His love for you.It is very deep, and it is very close.

(2) Ariel Asa, December 4, 2014 7:48 PM

my older brother

I feel that I just lost an older brother. When I first started yeshiva, R Kalman was there not only to set the example of what diligence in Torah means but also to encourage, listen, advise, and be everything I imagine an older brother would be. He was the one to listen to my understanding of the gemara and gently guide me in really understanding it. He was there late at night when I needed a listening ear about a personal issue. He was the one that organized a group to study the laws of proper speech which inculcated my appreciation for this mitzvah. I could go on with many more examples. It wasn't until I heard his name among the murdered that it really dawned on me what a difference he made in my development. I feel especially pained that I never took the opportunity to fully express my feelings of gratitude to him. Do yourself a favor...take the opportunity today to thank all your "big brothers and sisters" in your life that have touched you.

(1) Nancy, December 3, 2014 8:50 PM

Now MY heart is heavy

I understand every word you have written here. This blog really got under my skin in a most powerful and positive way.

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