Yehuda Lev, an iconoclastic journalist and veteran of World War II and Israel’s War of Independence, who established a European underground route to smuggle Holocaust survivors to Palestine, died on Aug. 3 in Providence, R.I., after a prolonged illness. He was 86.
With the founding of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles in 1986, Lev became the weekly’s first associate editor, continuing in the role until 1993. He was best known for his column “A Majority of One,” which slayed the Jewish community’s sacred cows week after week.
Rob Eshman, The Journal’s publisher and editor-in-chief, observed that “Yehuda took seriously journalism’s obligation to ‘afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted’. His columns were fearlessly critical of communal institutions at a time when most Jewish papers played it safe. The angrier the response from machers and mavens, the happier he was.”
Gene Lichtenstein, The Journal’s first editor, who had hired Lev for his writing style and skill, noted, “what Yehuda had not told me [during an initial job interview] was quite how generous and important a mentor to young journalists he would turn out to be. Or how gracious and witty and loyal a friend the newspaper and I had acquired.”
[Related: A self-written obituary: A Majority of One]
Lev was born in New York City and raised in Forest Hills as John Lewis Low, the son of Sol Low, a successful businessman, and Rosamond Trilling Low one of the first American female labor lawyers.
He dropped out of Cornell to enlist in the U.S. Army during the latter part of World War II and was discharged in Germany when the war ended.
Moved by the plight of Holocaust survivors languishing in Displaced Persons camps, he established a route, mostly by foot, to bring the DPs to Mediterranean ports, where they embarked on “illegal” ships, past the British naval blockade, into Palestine.
At the same time, he looked after the physical needs of the survivors. At one point, he wrote his mother in Forest Hills, asking whether she could collect some wearable clothes for the refugees.
Three months later, Lev wrote, “I received word from a querulous American transportation officer in Bremerhaven that a shipment of 10 tons of clothing had arrived in a military transport and that I was listed on the manifest as its recipient. A few months later, a second shipment of 12 tons of clothing arrived.”
Returning to the United States, Lev earned master’s degrees from the University of Chicago (political science/Arabic studies) and Stanford (communication arts).
Then, in 1947, he set off to Palestine to help the Jews in their struggle to establish an independent state. Changing his name to Yehuda Lev, he joined the Israeli army when war broke out in May 1948.
[Related: Remembering Yehuda Lev]
While on patrol in the Negev, his jeep was blown up by a landmine, which killed everyone else and shattered his feet.
He remained in Israel at the end of the war and established himself as a highly popular radio host of “Jerusalem Calling,” a daily one-hour variety and discussion show in English on Kol Ysrael, the country’s national network.
Later, as the only native English speaker at Kol Ysrael, Lev became the network’s voice in reporting the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann to the outside world. Before returning to America in 1965 with his wife Idell Low, he created a record, “Six Million Accuse,” which was nominated for a Grammy.
In Los Angeles, Lev resumed his writing career on Jewish newspapers and a self-published broadsheet (also titled “A Majority of One”).
After divorcing Low, he married Rosa Maria (Shoshana) Pegueros, and in 1993, when she was offered a professorship in history and women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island, the couple moved to Providence.
Lev became active there in the local Jewish community and Federation, particularly in advising and writing for the local Jewish Voice & Herald, while also contributing to the daily Providence Journal.
In 2008, he suffered complications from a series of ailments and spent much of the following five years in care homes and hospitals. The same year, he wrote his own obituary, which was funny and completely honest (for the complete text, please visit this article at jewishjournal.com), in which he chose as his tombstone inscription “He was there, when needed…Mostly.”
Lev is survived by his first and second wives and four adult children, Dr. Daniel Low (Jennifer), Dafna Low Smith (Scott) and David Low, all of Los Angeles, and Ariela Low Gragg (Clayton) of Providence, as well as five grandchildren.
Interment is scheduled for Aug. 9 at the Veterans Cemetery in Providence. A later memorial service is planned for Los Angeles.
Donations in Lev’s memory may be sent to the Jewish Voice & Herald, 401 Elmgrove Ave., Providence, R.I. 02906.
The family requests that those wishing to share a recollection of Yehuda Lev’s life email it to: firstname.lastname@example.org.