Yehuda Lev, US-born journalist and Zionist, dies in Rhode Island at 86

Veteran of World War II, War of Independence, dies on August 3 after a prolonged illness.

Haganah volunteers evacuate wounded 370 (photo credit: State of Israel National Photo Collection)
Haganah volunteers evacuate wounded 370
(photo credit: State of Israel National Photo Collection)
LOS ANGELES – Yehuda Lev, the 86-year-old iconoclastic journalist and veteran of World War II and the War of Independence who established a European underground route to smuggle Holocaust survivors to Palestine, died on August 3 in Providence, Rhode Island, after a prolonged illness.
Lev became the first associate editor of the newly founded Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles in 1986, continuing until 1993. He was best known for his column “A Majority of One,” which slayed the Jewish community’s sacred cows week after week.
Rob Eshman, the Journal’s publisher and editor-in-chief, observed that “Yehuda took seriously journalism’s obligation to ‘afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.’ His columns were fearlessly critical of communal institutions at a time when most Jewish papers played it safe. The angrier the response from machers and mavens, the happier he was.”
Gene Lichtenstein, the paper’s first editor and the person who hired Lev for his writing style and skill, noted: “What Yehuda had not told me [during their initial interview] was quite how generous and important a mentor to young journalists he would turn out to be. Or how gracious and witty and loyal a friend the newspaper and I had acquired.”
Lev was born in New York City and raised in Forest Hills as John Lewis Low, son of Sol Low, a successful businessman, and Rosamond Trilling Low, one of the first American women labor lawyers.
He dropped out of Cornell to enlist in the US Army during the latter part of World War II and was discharged in Germany when the war ended.
Moved by the plight of Holocaust survivors languishing in displaced-person camps, he established a route, mostly by foot, to bring DPs to Mediterranean ports, where they embarked on “illegal” ships past the British naval blockade and into Palestine.
At the same time, he looked after the physical needs of the survivors. At one point, he wrote his mother in Forest Hills, asking whether she could collect some wearable clothes for the refugees.
Three months later, Lev wrote, “I received word from a querulous American transportation officer in Bremerhaven that a shipment of 10 tons of clothing had arrived in a military transport and that I was listed on the manifest as its recipient. A few months later, a second shipment of 12 tons of clothing arrived.”
Returning to the United States, Lev earned master’s degrees from the University of Chicago (political science/Arabic studies) and Stanford (communication arts).
Then, in 1947, he set off to Palestine to help the Jews in their struggle to establish an independent state. Changing his name to Yehuda Lev, he joined the Israeli army when war broke out in May 1948.
While on patrol in the Negev, his jeep was blown up by a landmine, which killed everyone else and shattered his feet.
Lev remained in Israel at the end of the war and established himself as a highly popular radio host of “Jerusalem Calling,” a daily one-hour variety and discussion show in English on Israel Radio.
Later, as the only native English speaker there, he became the station’s voice in reporting the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann to the outside world. Before returning to America in 1965 with his wife, Idell Low, he produced a record, “Six Million Accuse,” which was nominated for a Grammy award.
In Los Angeles, Lev resumed his writing career on Jewish newspapers and a self-published broadsheet (also titled “A Majority of One”).
After a divorce, he married Rosa Maria (Shoshana) Pegueros, and when she was offered a professorship in history and women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island in 1993, the couple moved to Providence.
Lev became active in the local Jewish community and federation, particularly in advising and writing for the local Jewish Voice & Herald while also contributing to the daily Providence Journal.
In 2008, he suffered complications from a series of ailments and spent much of the following five years in care homes and hospitals. The same year, he wrote his own obituary, funny and completely honest (see box), in which he chose as his tombstone inscription: “When he was needed, he was there. Mostly.”
Lev is survived by his first and second wives and four adult children, Dr. Daniel Low (Jennifer), Dafna Low Smith (Scott) and David Low, all of Los Angeles, and Ariela Lev Gragg (Clayton) of Providence, as well as five grandchildren.
Interment is scheduled for August 9 at the Veterans Cemetery in Providence. A later memorial service is planned for Los Angeles.
Donations in his memory can be sent to the Jewish Voice & Herald, 401 Elmgrove Avenue, Providence, RI 02906.
The family requests that those wishing to share a recollection of Yehuda Lev’s life email it to: [email protected].