Today I weep the kind of tears one sheds when someone profoundly irreplaceable has been lost. I weep the kind of tears one sheds not merely for the end of a life, but for the end of an era.
Most of the city knew Charley Levine as the father of public relations in Jerusalem. After founding the first PR firm in the city, Charley worked with a who’s who of Israeli leaders including Menachem Begin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and more than I have room to list here. To many, Charley was an “ambassador for the Jewish people” who ranked among Israel’s most eloquent spokesmen and articulate defenders.
To me he was not only a hero and a mentor, he was like a father.
I first met Charley when I was 15 years old. Charley, along with his family, skidded into my parent’s Houston home five minutes before Shabbat bearing drinkable gifts from the Doctor Pepper factory, one of his personal meccas.
After an unforgettable Shabbat, consisting of equal doses of inspiration and entertainment, Charley and Shelly sat me down and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
If I ever decided to take the leap and make aliya, they explained, their home in Israel would be my home in Israel.
True to their word, three years later when I returned to Israel as a lone soldier in the IDF, Charley and Shelly, along with their children Doni, Dori and Zvi, lovingly adopted me into their family. It was the promise of the Levine’s Shabbat table which got me through the most grueling and painful army training. It was the stories, legends and anecdotes that Charley and Shelly colorfully recounted late into those Shabbat evenings which planted the seeds for what would later become not only my profession, but my life’s mission – Israel advocacy.
Although Charley was a master craftsman of the English language, it was much more than what Charley said that so profoundly influenced my life – it was who Charley was. Although I am acutely aware that I can not possibly do justice to the greatness of this man or his profound contribution to Israel, it is who Charley was that I want to share with you.
By all accounts Charley was brilliant.
After graduating with honors from New York University he was offered scholarships to Harvard, Stanford and Columbia for their prestigious journalism programs.
His father was ill, however, so he opted for the less prestigious University of Texas in order to be close to home.
One would think he would accept the coveted position of writing for Walter Cronkite at CBS, but that wasn’t Charley. Rather than pursuing financial security for his young family, he began his career doing public relations for the Jewish Federation, and due to his exceptional work was promoted to serve as National PR director of Hadassah and director of information for North America of the World Zionist Congress.
Charley was not a man to rest on his laurels, however, and not satisfied with “cheering from the sidelines” Charley and family took the road less traveled, making aliya in 1978 to Ma’aleh Adumim, then a far cry from the developed, thriving city it is today. He immediately joined the IDF and was promoted to captain in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, where he projected a positive and enlightening message to the nations of the world through some of Israel’s most critical and challenging times.
When Charley opened “Charles Levine Communications” in 1983 people thought he was crazy and out of touch. After all, if he was to have any chance for success, he would need to set up shop in the communications hub of those times, Tel Aviv, where one went to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers.
Yet Charley understood something that the others didn’t. Charley realized that real war Israel faces is not one of military might or weapons, but of ideas. Jerusalem represents the heart of Israel and the soul of the Jewish people, and if he was to fulfill his mission, his headquarters could be nowhere else.
He built it, and they came. Guiding and advising Israel’s leaders was only a part of Charley’s job description; at least half of his time was spent with foreign leaders, movie stars and universally renowned personalities. Yet the beauty of his work with them was that he not only did an exemplary job of public relations for them, but did an even better job of doing public relations for Israel. I don’t think it would be possible to quantify the number of people around the world who now stand with Israel due to Charley’s influence, seeing the beauty and positivity in our great country rather than the slander and distortions which pervade international media to this day.
This article would be negligently incomplete, however, if I were to omit Charley the husband, the father and the man. Constantly devoted to others, Charley and Shelly forced my sister to go out on a date with a handsome young tank commander who is now my brother-in-law and the father of my supremely beloved nieces and nephew. And Charley’s wife Shelly – well, she is not exactly a meek wallflower. A power personality in her own right, she is the founder of the successful and historic real estate firm “Tivuch Shelly” – entire communities in Israel exist because of her.
Yet their marriage did not suffer the unfortunate fate of so many other “power couples” in large part because of Charley’s humility and supportive nature, which allowed for among the happiest marriages that I have seen. More than any other testimony to the character of this great man, however, are his children. Doni, Dori and Zvi each served their country with exceptional self-sacrifice and dedication, and to this day are passionate advocates on behalf for Israel and lead lives in which their Jewish identity and commitment to their people are first and foremost.
Since his creation, man has struggled with his mortality and the need to be remembered – and to make a lasting impact. There are those who embalm to preserve the physical body, yet this is temporary, and of little consequence to the living. There are those who seek to perpetuate their names, yet our names are no more than titles and labels whose meaning eventually fades. Our only true legacy, the only lasting impact we have in this world, is the way in which our actions, our lives, have influenced those we have left behind – how our lives have changed other’s lives, and all who they encounter.
Every generation has a calling – a unique challenge for their times.
Charley heard that calling and said “hineni” – “here I am.” Charley Levine lived his life for Israel and the Jewish people and shined a positive and inspiring light from Jerusalem to the world and in that light, as well as in the hearts of the countless people he has touched, he will continue to live forever.
May his memory be for a blessing.Ari Abramowitz is a film maker, educator, and the host of ‘Israel Inspired Radio’ on Voice of Israel broadcast network. He was the host of the popular Jerusalem based TV show “Tuesday Night Live in Jerusalem” and has been featured on CNN, Fox News, BBC, and other international outlets.