August 28, 2008
Writer-producer David Brandes offers this eulogy for his friend and mentor, Rabbi Levi Meier.
Rabbi Weil, Marci and family, friends:
It's hard to believe it's been 30 days. Like any significant event, it feels like yesterday and an eternity all at the same time.
I showed up late at the main sanctuary of Beth Jacob during the Torah reading of Parshat Vayerah. It must have been two years ago. I ran into Levi by chance at the back of the shul during the reading of the Akeidah [binding of Issac]. Levi was moving quickly, as he always did, and he was full of excitement.
"David," he said to me. "You've come at the perfect moment: The knife is drawn and he is about to strike."
Infected by Levi's enthusiasm, I hurried to my seat to catch the end of the story.
This small moment tells a lot about the man.
For one, Levi was the master of Hakarat Hatov... He was always able to see the good in people and convey it to them. There was no criticism that I had come late ... to Levi I truly had come "at the perfect moment."
That small moment also tells of Levi's unbinding love, understanding and passion for Judaism.
Later, when we were sitting together, he shared an insight into the character of Abraham.
I remember asking him, after the Torah reading was over, to what extent he identified with Avraham in the story.
"You don't understand," he said. "I don't just identify with Avraham, I live with him and I live with Yitzchak and Yaakov, as well."
And that's what Levi conveyed to all that knew him.
Levi was one of the most wonderfully complicated people I ever met. He was a Torah scholar and original thinker, a gifted writer, a lover of music and poetry, a man who loved Marci and his family dearly and was a great friend.
During the eight years he taught the Avi Chai Torah study group for Hollywood writers, I, and many of the faces you see sitting in this room, were truly fortunate to have Levi as our teacher. It was rare that anyone missed the class unless, of course, for business reasons. It was the highlight of our month.
Levi was a truly gifted teacher whose insights into the Torah were original and at times provocative. That unusual blend of Rashi, Jung and Rilke made Levi's Torah intellectually challenging, poetic and alive with relevance for our personal lives. I always remember walking away from his shiurim feeling comforted and wanting to be a better person.... Life seemed somehow more understandable and sweeter. He had that great ability to make you understand that we are all on journeys. Spiritual and existential. Alone and together. That at different times we all suffer. And that Hashem is there to guide and to help.
I spent some time at Cedars-Sinai visiting patients, sometimes with Levi and sometimes alone. I remember coming in one afternoon and Levi was sitting at this desk in an unusually serious mood. He explained that he had to visit a patient who had had a terrible reversal in life. Several weeks earlier this patient was assured that he had beaten his disease and was healthy ... and now he was told that the end was near and that he should put his affairs in order immediately. As we walked to the patient's room I felt inadequate and overwhelmed. I didn't want to be there, I had no idea what to say... I asked Levi what he intended to say to the man?
"I don't know," Levi answered "But I'm sure Hashem will help me out."
And he did.
Levi opened himself to that poor man and assured him that even in the greatest depths there is still reason for hope. God had not abandoned him. Levi wasn't being Pollyannaish, not for a moment. Through his love and sincerity he was able to make personal contact with the man so that he felt less alone. There was a long silence. Levi, speaking very quietly but with great empathy assured the man that regardless what happens, he, Levi, will stay with him through to the end. He promised not abandon him, ever. The man was able to hear him. That moment was stunning in its simplicity and beautiful in its humanity.
Like that poor man, many, many people from all walks of life and backgrounds met Levi when they were at their most vulnerable. He was always respectful of the intimacy, the vulnerability and the trust. Levi was a pillar of love, hope and comfort to a community.
And, finally, I feel truly privileged to have spent time with him. When I think of Levi I remember Rav Kook's statement about his friend Rav Aryeh Levine: "He was my great friend because he never lied to me, he never flattered me and he never asked for favors unless they were for others."
Levi has enriched my life and the life of my family. At times he was a mentor and at times he was a brother. I loved him dearly and I will miss him forever.
May his memory be a blessing for all of us.
Virginia DeNitto died Aug. 13 at 81. She is survived by her husband, Rudy Salcedo; son, Albert; three grandchildren; and sister, Jean Mizrachi. Mount Sinai
Sonia "Sunny" Fein died Aug. 12 at 80. She is survived by her daughter, Elaine (Michael) Gibson; son Matthew (Kathy); and grandaughters, Michelle and Rachel. Hillside
Robert Feldman died Aug. 15 at 96. He is survived by his wife, Rachel; and sons, Jeffrey and Bruce (Carol). Malinow and Silverman
Hymen Fried died Aug. 9 at 85. He is survived by his son, Robert; daughters, Karen Siener and Sherrie Goldfarb; brothers Barney and Frank; and sister, Bea Solomon. Hillside
Florence Goldstein died July 19 at 93. She is survived by her son, Barry (Keng Wah); daughter, Linda (Gary Brown); grandchildren, Lisa Faite and David; and sister, Renee Pyle. Mount Sinai
Evelyn Hassen died Aug. 11 at 95. She is survived by her son, Joel (Rochelle); daughter, Irene Kelly; three grandchildren; and brother, Leo (Bernice) Miller. Mount Sinai
Joseph Hoffman died Aug. 7 at 89. He is survived by his wife, Selene; children, Terri, Judy, Carol, Lori and Daniel; and many honorary children.
Victoria Horowitz died July 21 at 89. She is survived by her husband, Harry; sons, Stanley and Lawrence (Diane); grandson, Josh; and sister, Lily Weiwrich. Mount Sinai
Estelle Kandell died Aug. 12 at 85.She is survived by her daughter, Toby (Roger) Brooks; son, Stephen (Elena Estrin); five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Mount Sinai
Irene Moses Levenson died Aug. 13 at 85. She is survived by her children, Stephanye (Alan) Finestone, Bryan, Laurie Lou (Douglas Mirell) and Jeffrey (Monika); and nine grandchildren. Hillside
Marvin Robert Macklin died Aug. 11 at 91. He is survived by his wife, Rocile; daughters, Jo and Sheri; son-in-law, Mark; four grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and sister, Maxine. Groman
Theodore Perlman died Aug. 8 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Elaine; daughter, Susan Patterson; sister, Bernice (Maynard) Strull; and nephews, Jerry and Dan Strull; and niece, Toni Kent. Mount Sinai
Jerry Pivnik died Aug. 12 at 62. He is survived by his wife, Jill; sons, Jason (Jenica) and Jordan; and daughter, Samantha. Mount Sinai
Theodore Ring died Aug. 13 at 90. He is survived by his daughters, Anita (William Fulkerson) Penniman and Ronnie (Richard) Kukler; son, Bradley; and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai
Bernard Roth died Aug. 10 at 81. He is survived by his daughter, Lynda; and son, Bill. Malinow and Silverman
Lawrence Schwartz died Aug. 11 at 71. He is survived by his wife, Judy; son, Joseph (Frida); daughter, Debra (Mike) Zeiden; and sister, Marcia. Hillside
Gertrude Lillian Sokol died Aug. 13 at 94. She is survived by her sister, Diane; and nephew, Scott. Groman
Dr. Bertram Steel died Aug. 6 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Suzanne; daughters, Sari and Jana; and sister, Beverly (Lewis) Ahavas Aachim, Stockton
Arthur Weiss died Aug. 14 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Barbara; sons, Donald (Kathy) and Andrew (Paulette); daughter, Jane; stepdaughter, Rachel (Jonathan Lapidese) Pfeffer; stepson, Andrew (Rochelle) Pfeffer; 12 grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and brother, Sheldon (Carole). Mount Sinai