“Eich naflu hagiborim – How the mighty has fallen.” (2 Samuel 1:25)
As David said of his beloved friend Jonathan, so too do we say for one of our g’dolei dor, Rabbi Richard N. Levy, whose soul entered eternity before Shabbat this past Friday, June 21.
I have known Richard since I was 14 years-old when he became the Assistant Rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles. He continued to be my rabbi, draft counselor during the Vietnam War, teacher and friend ever since.
Only weeks before his ordination in 1964, Richard joined a group of rabbis in a protest march under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that got him arrested in St. Augustine, FL. Richard said this was the first time in his life when he contemplated being killed.
After his service at Leo Baeck Temple, Richard led both the UCLA Hillel and the Los Angeles Hillel Council. Then he became HUC-LA’s director of the School of Rabbinic Studies until 2009, continued to teach on the HUC faculty and to serve as rabbi of the HUC Synagogue and director of Spiritual Growth until 2014.
Richard early on joined the peace group Breira, the precursor to J Street, in the 1970s, and was a member of the J Street Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet.
Richard was an accomplished poet, graced with a keen intellect and a wry, quick-witted sense of humor.
He edited and translated several volumes of liturgy – On Wings of Awe, On Wings of Freedom, On Wings of Light – and he contributed to the 1975 Reform movement’s Gates of Prayer.
Never still and with an ever-active fertile intellect – even with failing physical health – in 2017, Richard completed his translation and commentary of the Book of Psalms called Songs Ascending.
Among the most difficult and important accomplishments of Richard’s career occurred during his term as the President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Over a two-year period, Richard led more than 2000 Reform rabbis in producing the 1999 CCAR “Statement of Principles of Reform Judaism” that augured a return to traditionalism and reaffirmed the Reform movements prophetic values and support for the Jewish people and State of Israel.
Richard was a once-in-a-generation rabbinic leader whose influence cut across denominational lines. His kindness is legion, his joyfulness ever-flowing, and his love for his family, friends, colleagues, the Jewish people and humankind a model for us all.
Richard was the beloved husband of Carol Levy (z’l) and the loving father of Sarah and Elizabeth, their spouses Connor and Chad, and an adoring grandfather of Elijah.
There was no one like Rabbi Richard Levy, and so in his death the Jewish people has lost a great sage.
Zecher tzaddik livracha – May the memory of this righteous man be a blessing.