By Robinn Magid
Rabbi Arnold “Avi” Levine was honored Sunday, December 18, 2011 with a memorial study session given in his name at the home of Dr. Gary and Lois Marcus of Berkeley. Approximately 100 friends, former congregants and local rabbis gathered to pay tribute to Rabbi Levine who passed away in Palm Desert on October 27th 2011 at age 70 after a 12-year battle with cancer.
Rabbi Levine served as the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El of Berkeley from 1976 to 1994. Under his leadership, the vibrant, liberal Jewish congregation grew from 250 families to more than 500, expanded Camp Kee Tov and the Beth El Nursery School, and forged a closer relationship with the State of Israel.
At the memorial, attendees fondly remembered the gentle man who loved running in Tilden Park and took time to provide personal attention to all those who required it. His attentiveness to pastoral duties, and his untiring emotional support and rabbinic guidance were recalled by those who spoke.
Roz Plishner of Kensington, who lost her teenage son in a 1989 car accident in the Berkeley hills, related that when she couldn’t bear to part with the prayer shawl (“tallit”) that her son, Aaron, had worn to his bar mitzvah, and which would traditionally be buried along with the deceased, Rabbi Levine offered his own tallit for the burial ritual. Rabbi Levine also suggested that the family purchase a sacred Torah scroll in memory of the boy, and it is that scroll which the Bar and Bat mitzvah candidates carry and read from at Congregation Beth El today.
The memorial study session, led by Rabbi Yoel Kahn, the current spiritual leader of Beth El, centered on the 17th century Rabbi Isaiah Hurwitz of Safed, who wrote a letter to his children in November 1621, recounting his journey to Israel. The letter contained biblical and poetic references paralleling the hopes and dreams of Rabbi Avi Levine.
Rabbi Levine’s dream was to move to Israel and help build the Jewish State through social work. Lovingly referred to as “Rabbi Avi” in reference to his Hebrew connection, Rabbi Levine brought many tour groups of young people to Israel, but his family and career responsibilities prevented him from achieving his dream of living life as an Israeli.
He was buried in Jerusalem fulfilling an ancient and personal wish. Rabbi Levine is survived by his adoring wife Linda and their three children: Yael, Tal and Tamar.