Find­ing joy in his­tory

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - ARRIVALS - • GLO­RIA DEUTSCH

Elkan Levy, who made aliyah in 2011, thinks noth­ing of driv­ing from his home in Ne­tanya to Tel Aviv to pick up a grand­child from school, if nec­es­sary. “My son and daugh­ter both live in Tel Aviv, and some­times I get an emer­gency call that one of the kids needs col­lect­ing,” says the 75-year-old lawyer, who was very well-known in Eng­land for his com­mu­nity work. “I’ve also been teach­ing my grand­daugh­ter and two grand­sons to read the To­rah and Haf­tara, and it has been a joy and a priv­i­lege.”

Be­ing a hands-on grand­fa­ther is among his many roles to­day (al­though he of­ten lec­tures to im­mi­grant au­di­ences). But at one time, not so long ago, he was a pil­lar of the English Jewish com­mu­nity.

As pres­i­dent of the United Sy­n­a­gogue from 1996 to 1999, Levy worked closely for sev­eral years with Emer­i­tus Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

It was in this ca­pac­ity that Levy at­tended the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997.

“It was a Shab­bat – I stayed with Lord Sacks in St. John’s Wood and we walked very early to the sy­n­a­gogue there, then an­other two or three miles to St. James’s Palace,” he re­calls. “It was an enor­mous priv­i­lege to work with Rabbi Sacks. He raised the sta­tus of the Chief Rab­binate to great heights.”

Levy wanted to be a rabbi but his fa­ther, a minister of re­li­gion him­self, was dead against it.

They reached a com­pro­mise whereby Levy would study for a bach­e­lor of arts de­gree at Jews’ Col­lege rab­bini­cal sem­i­nary in Lon­don. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 1964, he won a schol­ar­ship to the Jewish The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in New York, where he gained his master’s with a the­sis on An­glo-Jewry and the First World War. His­tory be­came and still is his pas­sion, how­ever, he worked for 30 years as a so­lic­i­tor in Eng­land.

In 2000, he re­tired from the law. Then, in 2004, he got the call to be­come trav­el­ing minister to small com­mu­ni­ties around Bri­tain.

“I trav­eled all over the coun­try and dealt with every­body – Or­tho­dox, Lib­eral and Re­form,” he says. “Most com­mu­ni­ties don’t have la­bels and can fit in any­where.”

He and his wife, Celia, the daugh­ter of Dayan Mi­choel Fisher of the Fed­er­a­tion Beit Din, had an apart­ment in Is­rael for many years and they vis­ited of­ten, spend­ing ev­ery Passover here. They fi­nally made aliyah in 2011. Sadly, in 2012, Celia died.

Hav­ing left the le­gal pro­fes­sion be­hind, Levy now finds much joy in pur­su­ing his in­ter­est in his­tory and is in de­mand for lec­tur­ing to au­di­ences both here and in Eng­land on a very ex­ten­sive list of top­ics.

His lec­tur­ing style has been de­scribed as “a so­phis­ti­cated stand-up com­edy rou­tine sup­ported by facts, texts and pic­tures.”

“I am fas­ci­nated by what went on here 100 years ago and I do Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tions on sub­jects like Al­lenby’s con­quest of Pales­tine,” he says. “I was very ex­cited to find two First World War memo­ri­als in Tel Aviv, one on Ibn Gabirol [Street] and one near Read­ing [Park]. I had pic­tures of them but I did not know ex­actly where they were, so I went to the mu­seum and did some re­search and lo­cated them.”

One of Levy’s other claims to fame is that Her­bert Sa­muel, the first Bri­tish high com­mis­sioner in Eretz Yis­rael, came to his bar mitz­vah in 1956.

“He was a mem­ber of the sy­n­a­gogue where my fa­ther was the hazan [can­tor[,” he re­calls with a proud smile. “He brought me one of his books as a gift, and I re­mem­ber think­ing as a cal­low youth that it wasn’t much of a present. To­day I trea­sure it.”

Levy has been a very keen Freema­son for over 40 years and at­tends lodge meetings on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. He holds high of­fice both in Is­rael and Eng­land.

“I meet Jews from all over the world, Arabs, Chris­tians and a host of in­ter­est­ing peo­ple,” he says.

Fi­nally, af­ter the painful loss of his wife six years ago, Levy has found new ro­mance with Andee, an im­mi­grant from Las Ve­gas who shares his re­li­gious out­look and world view.

They met through IBCA – the Is­rael, Bri­tain and The Com­mon­wealth As­so­ci­a­tion – which will soon hold its an­nual Bal­four Din­ner. In fact, in some ways, Lord Bal­four brought them to­gether. Andee needed to pre­pare some notes on a sub­ject she knew noth­ing about. Some­one said “Speak to Elkan.’” She did – and the rest is his­tory. ■


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