Haganah volunteers evacuate wounded 370.
(photo credit: State of Israel National Photo Collection)
Journalist Yehuda Lev, 86, died on August 3 in the US. Five years ago he wrote
his own obituary. It follows here.
This column, which you will recognize
as an obituary if the editors remember to frame the accompanying photo in black,
came about as follows.
Me: We devote entirely too much space in this
newspaper to obituaries.
Editor: In a community paper they are very
Me: When my turn comes, keep it brief.
Editor: Will two
lines be enough? Me: Two lines? Editor: Tell you what. Why don’t you write your
own? And so I have.
Yehuda Lev has died in Providence, closing out a life
filled with contradictions and unanswered questions. During his final 15 years,
in retirement in Rhode Island, he never appeared in public without his
multicolored Bukharan kippa which, combined with his full, white beard, gave him
the distinguished appearance of a learned, Sephardi rabbi. In reality he was not
a rabbi and had little regard for organized religion of any sort, explaining
that he preferred to learn the truth about the hereafter by himself rather than
rely on second-hand reports.
Nor was he all that learned. His attempts at
securing an education were best summed up by his request to be included in the
Guinness Book of Records as the only person ever to fail statistics in three of
the finest universities in the country, Cornell, Chicago and Stanford. The fact
that he managed to eke out graduate degrees from the latter two institutions was
trumped by his widow, Dr. Rosemarie Pegueros, who claimed that one PhD outranked
Lev was very much involved in the lives of his four children,
three by his first wife, Idell, a violin teacher with whom he remained on good
terms, and the fourth by his second wife, an associate professor of Latin
American History and Women’s Studies at URI.
His oldest son, Daniel, is
director of the nuclear medicine department of Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St.
Louis [now the vice chair of physics at the UCLA Center for Radiation Oncology –
Editor]. His second son, David, is a classical cellist and orchestral manager of
the Los Angeles Opera Company [now no longer connected to the company – Editor].
His older daughter, Dafna, is a violin teacher and his younger daughter, Ariela,
is making a career in law and government service.
satisfaction of his life came from their maturing into loving, honest and
Other than his family, Lev’s main passion in life was
Israel, in whose creation he played a minor role, first in Europe with the
“illegal” pre-state immigration to Palestine, then in the Israeli army during
its War of Independence and finally, after a period of kibbutz life, as a
journalist with the Israel State Radio in Jerusalem. One of his four children
once asked him about his contributions to the founding of the state and he
pointed out that if he had joined the family business in New York instead of
wandering far afield, not a single word would have been written differently in
any history of Israel.
Like every affair of the heart, this romance had
its ups and downs. Of late, Lev felt somewhat estranged due to differences of
opinion about some of the policies followed by Israel’s governments. But he
never lost faith in his beloved and was certain that eventually common sense and
a Jewish sense of justice would prevail and the ship of state, at present
leaning more to the right than he preferred, would regain its balance and retain
its sense of purpose.
Lev’s life spanned decades during which tremendous
societal and technological changes occurred. The latter he never mastered; to
his death the computer remained a malevolent enemy that stubbornly refused to
comply with his demands and served him mainly as a glorified
To the former he adjusted well. In his youth he shared the
common acceptance of injustices meted out to women, gays, minorities, the
underprivileged and others who were denied equality and opportunity. As he
practiced his profession of journalism in Europe, Israel and the United States,
he came to see the world very differently and tried to use his facility with
words to right some of the wrongs he encountered, both in the Jewish community
and on the larger world stage. He took on religious and political extremists in
his column, “A Majority of One,” which he wrote for a quarter century in Los
Angeles and Providence although, often as not, he discovered that the printed
word could not cure the ills he denounced; education was a far more potent
In a rare moment of introspection Lev once suggested to his wife
an epitaph that will suffice to close this brief farewell.
When he was
needed, he was there.