When I think of Charley Levine, it’s mostly about the Poker Game – the Jerusalem Poker game which he and I founded back in 1981. Every week an eclectic group of guys would drink, eat (Charley and I particularly excelled at that part), boast, gamble, joke and mostly kibbitz for hours until late at night. The cards were important but not the main thing. We were there for the narrative, the update, the kidding and the arguments. You could come late (after a date or dinner), but you had to show, to be there, to catch up.
Dozens of Jerusalemites flowed in and out of the game – religious and non-religious, Anglo and native, famous and less so – rocket scientists, lawyers, Internet pioneers, medical entrepreneurs, members of Knesset, cooks, journalists, and tour guides – and many others. But it was always Charley’s game. He was the glue. Even though I had brought the smoothly worn vintage poker chips from the old country that I had inherited from a friend.
Charley was the organizer, the record keeper, the keeper of the spirit.
Charley especially loved the annual all-nighter when we would tell girlfriends and wives to not wait up, because we would start with a festive dinner and play all night. This was Charley’s special moment, when he read the annual scores – of who had won and lost the most for the year. True to form, Charley kept this game going long after I moved on – he played religiously, week in and week out, until he was hit by his strokes. The game still goes forward, with a new crew and a few old-timers. It will somehow need to make its way without Charley.
When I think of Charley, I think of Texas, a big place for people with big hearts and bigger ideas. Charley was proud to be a Texan.
He loved Mexican food, the music of Jerry Jeff Walker, conservative politics, Christians who love Israel. Charley was from San Antone...
the first-ever Betari from Texas. He found his way to a US national Betar conference in the ’70s where he met the dynamic Shelly Smith from Hunter College with a New York accent and passion to match Charley’s commitment and his Texas drawl. What an inseparable pair – always Charley and Shelly – making aliya and settling down. Charley loved consistency, patterns, roots.
His family came to Ma’aleh Adumim and stayed. Charley liked the place, and when he liked something he stuck with it, for life. Loyalty to family, to friends, to place, to country and people came easy to Charley. It was second nature. Like any mythical Texas Ranger, loyalty and consistency were his hallmarks.
WHEN I think of Charley, I think of talking and ideas. Lots of ideas and lots of talking. Charley was a PR guy, a pioneering public relations professional who did this before most people in this country knew what it was. But he did PR because he was a Zionist, a passionate true believer in Israel and the Jewish people. And he knew that we needed it big time. He wanted people to tell our story better, much better. Not the traditional hasbara (public diplomacy) apparatchik with broken English and lack of ideas and focus. To make it a story, to make it creative, to have the proper hook. Charley would train his clients, craft the story and then get It out.
Whether it was for Hadassah, or the World Zionist Organization, or the International Christian Embassy, prime ministers, or US politicians – Charley was the go-to-guy, not a spin doctor in today’s terms but a classic story teller who would boil down a complex reality to the real heart, the emotive place where legends are born and great press ensues. And this is why he was loved. The press came to rely on him, someone who could tell them the real stories.
He trained not only his clients, but a generation of young journalists and writers and sales people who all came through his shop, he helped them, mentored them and gave many of them their start.
When I think of Charley, I think of his smile, always a smile. Charley was fun.
He loved a laugh, a joke, an adventure. I remember the WZO Zionist Caravan he organized and recruited me for back in the ’80s – a bunch of crazed itinerant activist speakers, singers and dreamers who told the story of Israel in town after town, event after event.
Charley was the responsible adult and jokester. He would always stop for junk food in some broken-down deserted hole in the wall and take us on a detour to a lake. Then we would end up in a town full of passionate Christian Zionists singing Hebrew songs and dancing the hora.
In these situations, Charley was in his element, with his people, at his best.
When I think of Charley, I think of everything that I love so much about this tiny country: dreams and fun, heart and passion, ideas and food, love and family.
He was a mensch, a great friend, a tireless advocate and diplomat for Israel. And a crazed poker player. He has left us far too young, with too much left for us to do together, fun to have, stories yet to be told. Charley enjoyed his life, loved Shelly and the kids and was profoundly satisfied in a way best expressed by Jerry Jeff Walker in his song “Lucky Man”: So I guess I’ll go on counting all my lucky stars ’Cause all the lucky people are the ones who really know they are You can’t have what you want unless you dare to see things through And I got what I wanted on the day we said I do Charley was all about the “I do.” We will remember him and we will do much more in his memory. Let it be for a blessing.
The writer is CEO of OurCrowd.
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