Michael Levin: Bigger than life itself

The mother of a soldier shot by a Hizbullah sniper reminisces about her son.

michael levine 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
michael levine 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Some Fridays, Harriet Levin still wakes up in her Philadelphia home and reaches for the telephone to call Israel. For two years, that was her and her husband Mark's Friday routine - to wake early in the morning and call their son Michael, a soldier in Battalion 890 of the Paratroopers Brigade, before Shabbat. But that custom came to an end this past summer during the Second Lebanon War. Michael, 22, was shot by a Hizbullah sniper in the southern Lebanese village of Ayta A-Shayeb. Now, there are no more phone calls. In Israel for the first Remembrance Day since her Michael's death, Levin reminisced on Friday about her son and her feelings about what it was like living in America and turning into a member of the collective Israeli bereaved family. "From a young age Michael said he wanted to go serve in the Israeli army," Levin said. "As a young boy he was already a Zionist with a strong Jewish identity and one day when he was nine we found him on the eve of Rosh Hashana running outside and blowing the shofar, announcing to everyone that Rosh Hashana was coming." Michael's story spread like wildfire throughout the Jewish world: A typical American-Jewish boy who grew up in a traditional home but had done the unusual and left behind the comfortable life to serve his country and nation. Michael was visiting his parents in the US when the fighting erupted in northern Israel on July 12. That's when he again did the unexpected and cut his vacation short, hopped on a plane and rejoined his Paratroopers Brigade unit. As Levin said: "He has become bigger than life." Levin said that her parents - both Holocaust survivors - had a major impact on Michael's Jewish identity. Their stories, she said, motivated him to leave his family and friends behind in the US, immigrate to Israel and enlist in the elite Paratroopers Brigade. Michael's decision didn't come easily. His parents tried to convince him to stay in the US, go to college first and then move to Israel. His Holocaust-survivor grandfather offered to buy him the most expensive sports car if he stayed home. "Just pick one and you'll get it," was what Michael was told. His love for Israel proved to be stronger, and while he partially acceded to his parents' wishes and before enlisting spent a year in ulpan studying Hebrew and volunteering on a kibbutz, he ultimately enlisted in the IDF. Last Wednesday, Harriet Levin arrived here together with a close friend to experience Remembrance Day in Israel. "Remembrance Day before this was just another memorial day for me but never hit home," she said. "I need to be with him on this day." Levin said that she was overwhelmed with emotion by the "bear hug" she received from the Israeli people following Michael's death. "I am more comfortable here," she said. When she, her husband and two daughters came to Israel for Michael's funeral, there was concern that not many people would attend. "We weren't sure that there would even be a minyan of 10 people and in the end there were 2,000 people who came," she said. Part of that "bear hug" she referred to comes from other mothers of soldiers who were killed in action. Now instead of speaking to Michael on Fridays she gets a call from a mother of a soldier buried next to her son who visits Mount Herzl cemetery and lights a candle for her son and Michael every Friday. To memorialize their son, Levin and her family have established the Michael Levin Memorial Fund for Israel, with the money designated to helping lone soldiers. The Levin family has planned a two-day getaway in July for lone soldiers at a Tel Aviv hotel, during which they will hear lectures on their rights and meet with commanders in an effort to break down the barriers between them.•