Every morning as Rabbi Samuel Graudenz prays, he asks for the safe return of Chandra Ann Levy.
"I can only pray, though the signs are not good, that God will find her alive and well," said the 85-year-old rabbi emeritus of Modesto's Conservative Congregation Beth Shalom, where Levy's parents are members.
Levy, a 24-year-old Jewish woman from Modesto, vanished suspiciously from Washington, D.C., earlier this month. A graduate student in public administration at the University of Southern California, she had just completed an internship with the federal Bureau of Prisons and was expected to return to Modesto May 9, in time for her graduation.
Graudenz, now retired and a resident at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville, said he had prepared the dark, curly-haired Levy for her bat mitzvah and was "deeply shocked" by her disappearance. "I knew her as a fantastic student and a beautiful, conscientious girl," he said.
Meanwhile, congregants at Beth Shalom have been aiding community efforts to find Levy, working with the Carole Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, a Modesto-based group that helps families find loved ones. Soon after the disappearance, Robert and Susan Levy, Chandra's parents, contacted the foundation.
Levy was last seen publicly on April 30 when she canceled her membership at the Washington Sports Club near her apartment in Dupont Circle. Because there is no evidence of a crime, police are pursuing the disappearance as a missing persons case, said D.C. police officer Tony O'Leary.
Family and friends made contributions to the Carole Sund-Carrington foundation, offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to Levy's safe return. Contributors include Rep. Gary Condit (D-Modesto), who called Levy a "good friend" in a statement last week; the nature of their relationship is currently under investigation. Sen. Dianne Feinstein added another $5,000 to the fund last week.
Little is known about the missing woman's religious beliefs and involvement. However, some Beth Shalom congregants, including Doreen Goldman, admit to "disagreeing strongly" with Susan Levy because she is "a Jew with a belief in Christ." But that has not deterred Goldman and others from aiding the foundation and bringing attention to the family's plight.
Graudenz also confirmed that Susan Levy had what she called some "strange beliefs," but both he and Goldman were unsure if Chandra Levy shared those beliefs.
"She's a very nice girl, but she's also very hard to get close to," Goldman said about the missing woman. "She didn't really open up a lot."
Susan and Robert Levy did not return phone calls as of press time, but both have appeared extensively on national television and spoken to several media sources.
Paul Gordon, the rabbi at Beth Shalom since August, said he has been in touch with synagogues and rabbis in the D.C. area, requesting that they assist in the distribution of information regarding Levy's disappearance, "an important aspect in the search."
A candlelight vigil held Saturday in Levy's Washington neighborhood featured a D.C.-area rabbi, who said a prayer for the missing woman.
Levy's friend Jennifer Baker, herself a former intern in Washington, described Levy as a "dynamic, enthusiastic and energetic" person who liked to shop and go to movies. She said Levy had hoped to enter the FBI or work in law enforcement.
"It is out of character for her to just disappear," said Baker, "but I'm trying to stay positive and focused on bringing Chandra home."