August 5, 2013
A self-written obituary: A Majority of One
(Yehuda Lev was a columnist for the Jewish Journal from its founding in 1986, until 1993. This column was filed on Feb. 22, 2008; Yehuda Lev died on Aug. 3, 2013 in Providence, R.I. He was 86. His full obituary can be found at jewishjournal.com, along with an appreciation.)
This column, which you will recognize as an obituary if the editors remember to frame the accompanying photo in black, came about as follows.
Me: We devote entirely too much space in this newspaper to obituaries.
Editor: In a community paper they are very important.
Me: When my turn comes, keep it brief.
Editor: Will two lines be enough?
Me: Two lines?
Editor: Tell you what. Why don't you write your own?
And so I have.
Yehuda Lev, 86, has died after a long illness in Providence, of closing out a life filled with contradictions and unanswered questions. During his final years, in retirement in Rhode Island, he never appeared in public without his multicolored Bukharan kippah which, combined with his full, white beard, gave him the distinguished appearance of a learned, Sephardic rabbi. In reality he was not a rabbi and had little regard for organized religion of any sort, explaining that he preferred to learn the truth about the hereafter by himself rather than rely on second-hand reports.
[Related: Remembering Yehuda Lev]
Nor was he all that learned. His attempts at securing an education were best summed up by his request to be included in the Guinness Book of Records as the only person ever to fail statistics in three of the finest universities in the country, Cornell, Chicago and Stanford. The fact that he managed to eke out graduate degrees from the latter two institutions was trumped by his widow, Dr. Rosemarie Pegueros, who claimed that one Ph.D. outranked two M.As.
Lev was very much involved in the lives of his four children, three by his first wife, Idell, a violin teacher with whom he remained on good terms, and the fourth by his second wife, an associate professor of Latin American History and Women's Studies at University of Rhode Island. His oldest son, Daniel, is director of the nuclear medicine department of Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. His second son, David, is a classical cellist and orchestral manager of the Los Angeles Opera Company. His older daughter, Dafna, is a violin teacher and his younger daughter, Ariela, is making a career in law and government service.
The greatest satisfaction of his life came from their maturing into loving, honest and concerned adults.
Other than his family, Lev's main passion in life was Israel, in whose creation he played a minor role, first in Europe with the "illegal" pre-state immigration to Palestine, then in the Israeli Army during its War of Independence and finally, after a period of kibbutz life, as a journalist with the Israel State Radio in Jerusalem. One of his four children once asked him about his contributions to the founding of the state, and he pointed out that if he had joined the family business in New York instead of wandering far afield, not a single word would have been written differently in any history of Israel.
Like every affair of the heart, this romance had its ups and downs. Of late, Lev felt somewhat estranged due to differences of opinion about some of the policies followed by Israel's governments. But he never lost faith in his beloved and was certain that eventually common sense and a Jewish sense of justice would prevail and the ship of state, at present leaning more to the right than he preferred, would regain its balance and retain its sense of purpose.
Lev's life spanned decades during which tremendous societal and technological changes occurred. The latter he never mastered; to his death the computer remained a malevolent enemy that stubbornly refused to comply with his demands and served him mainly as a glorified typewriter.
To the former he adjusted well. In his youth, he shared the common acceptance of injustices meted out to women, gays, minorities, the underprivileged and others who were denied equality and opportunity. As he practiced his profession of journalism in Europe, Israel and the United States, he came to see the world very differently and tried to use his facility with words to right some of the wrongs he encountered, both in the Jewish community and on the larger world stage. He took on religious and political extremists in his column, "A Majority of One," which he wrote for a quarter century in Los Angeles and Providence although, often as not, he discovered that the printed word could not cure the ills he denounced; education was a far more potent weapon.
In a rare moment of introspection, Lev once suggested to his wife an epitaph that will suffice to close this brief farewell.
When he was needed, he was there.
Update: Dr. Daniel Low is now vice chair of physics at the UCLA Center for Radiation Oncology. David Low is a classical cellist and studio musician, but no longer connected with the Los Angeles Opera Company.