In lifeatholyblossom

Leonard Levy, like so many of his time, became a man the day he enlisted. In 1937 – against his mother’s wishes – Leonard joined the Royal Canadian Air Force.  He was 16. When he came home to tell his parents what he had done, his mother said: “You did what?!” She turned to his father: “Morty, do something!” And Morty put his hands together to applaud his son.

Leonard Levy - Arieh Yitzchak ben Mordechai HaLevy v’Tz’viah - November 29, 2015

Leonard Levy, like so many of his time, became a man the day he enlisted. In 1937 – against his mother’s wishes – Leonard joined the Royal Canadian Air Force.  He was 16. When he came home to tell his parents what he had done, his mother said: “You did what?!” She turned to his father: “Morty, do something!” And Morty put his hands together to applaud his son.

This week’s Torah portion describes the moment Joseph became a man, when he enlisted for a mission in search of his brothers.  His father Jacob said to Joseph:  “L’cha v’esh-la-cha-cha aleichem.”  “Come, let me send you out to your brothers.”  “Vayomeir lo: Hineini.”  “And he answered:  Here I am.”  This was at the heart of Leonard’s character.  “Hineini.  Here I am.  Ready to serve.  Ready and able to do what it takes to be helpful, to be hopeful about the future.”

When Joseph lost his way in the fields, a man came along and asked, “Mah t’vakeish?  What are you looking for?”  And Joseph answered, “et achai anochi m’vakeish.”  “I am searching for my brothers.”  Leonard grew up with one beloved sister, Sybil, and countless brothers.  There were his brothers from among the veterans, his brothers from the Masons — Leonard was a third-generation Mason, a Past Master of two lodges – and of course his brothers were here at Holy Blossom Temple.

Leonard and Morris Vigoda, his dear friend (and some say “partner in crime”), were together our Head Ushers.  For decades they greeted everyone with a firm handshake and a warm welcome.  Every Shabbat.  Every Yom Tov.  They must have walked miles up and down the aisles of this sanctuary.

For his 80th birthday – some of you may remember — Leonard was called to the Torah for a special aliyah and Rabbi Moscowitz presented a surprising gift, a tallit!  Leonard grew up in the era when not a tallit could be found in Holy Blossom’s sanctuary, so this risky gift drew a great laugh from the congregation, most of all from Leonard.  He held it up and said:  “Oh! What is this?”  And when Morris Vigoda saw him in it – even when Mo’s speech was slowed – he looked Leonard up and down and said:  “What?  Is it Halloween?”  Of course, the tallit looked great on him.  He looked younger in it somehow.  He wore it every Shabbat with pride and today he will be buried in that tallit.

When I first came to Holy Blossom, in 1998, Leonard gave me the grand tour.  He skipped from room to room, speaking with such pride in the Temple, its history, the stories behind each sacred objects, each stained glass window.  Through the halls he spoke respectfully of generations of rabbis and Temple leadership, memories of Bond Street.  His personal history was woven into the fabric of Toronto’s first synagogue.  Leonard’s grandparents, Bertha and Abraham Levy, came from New York City in the 1880s.

On the Temple tour seventeen years ago, Leonard’s tone changed altogether when we stopped at the wall of black and white Confirmation Class photos.  He pointed class by class, row by row, telling me the accomplishments of some, and also who fell during the war – and where.  Whenever Leonard went to the cemetery to mark the Yahrtzeit of a relative, he’d always pay respects to his friends who did not survive the war and to lay a stone at their graves.  Leonard knew he was lucky to come home whole.

He served four long years as a bomber pilot.  He flew thirty-two missions, including the raid on Dresden, in a Lancaster Bomber.  He said he got the job because he was small.  When Leonard came home in one piece, his mother, Celia, said, “Come on we’re going to Temple.”  Leonard wanted to change out of his uniform, but his mother – who was strong and clear – insisted he come to this sanctuary in his uniform, so they could offer up full prayers of gratitude for God’s protection.

For decades, Leonard spoke to schools across the GTA and beyond to tell the story of service during WWII.  In one school interview he explained:  “There was a mad man in Europe who was going to destroy the world and kill my people in doing it.  I – and all of my friends – could not stand by and let that happen.”

Leonard’s son Andy said of his father:  “He taught me how to swim when I was three years old.  I held onto his shoulders and he’d dive down under the water.  I’d hold on tight and that’s how I learned not to be afraid.”  Many of us could say the same  –  we held onto Leonard and learned not to be afraid.

For The Memory Project, Leonard shared a quote he’d found meaningful:  “There is no greater honour than serving your country.  There is no greater tragedy than being forgotten.  History is not made.  History is earned.”  “And we lived by that,” Leonard said.  “We were earning history for this country and the world.”

Andy reflects:  “The Innuit have one hundred words to name the different kinds of snow.  The Hawaians have one hundred words to name the different types of waves.  We have only one word for love, but my father taught us there are actually infinite types of love.”  Leonard’s death marks the end of a era, but we pray it will not an end to the upstanding character he demonstrated.  To honour his memory, let us pledge that it will not be an end to the values and virtues he stood for – loyalty, service, optimism, pride in country and congregation, and an infinite number of ways to love.

Every day of his life Leonard enlisted in a mission in search of his brothers.  Like Joseph, he heard the call:  “L’cha v’esh-la-cha-cha aleichem.”  “Come, go out to find your brothers.”  “Vayomeir lo.”  And Leonard answered each and every time, “Hineini. Here I am.”

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Showing 13 comments
  • Barbara Thal Hodes
    Reply

    I used to watch and admire Leonard during Shabbat services when there was a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. He was so good at dealing with the antsy teenagers who attended. He was kind and patient but authoritative when action needed to be taken; I wished I could be more like him.

    May his memory be for a blessing.

  • Jeffrey Freedman
    Reply

    I had the pleasure to meet Leonard on numerous occasions and he was warm welcoming and a gentleman. He was always friendly with my grandfather and they would enjoy seeing each other at shul. My condolences to his family.

  • Carla and Erica Baudot
    Reply

    Erica and I met Leonard when we joined the Family Service. He reached out to us and we will never forget the warmth that he projected each time that he spoke to Erica. We missed his presence when he could no longer attend. We will cherish our memories of him. Thank you, Leonard.

  • Cynthia Good
    Reply

    As with Rabbi Splansky, Leonard was the first person to really show me around Temple when I first came to Holy Blossom, knowing no one. He encouraged me and made me feel welcome. Each Shabbat when I arrived, Leonard would hand me the large print prayer book, so it would be easier for me to follow the Hebrew I was trying to learn. I will always remember his kindness.

  • Rochelle green
    Reply

    I knew mr levy since I was a young girl in St Thomas ont He was a salesman Many years later I came to Toronto and joined the temple Every Shabbas that I was there he welcomed me hugged me made me feel at home I will miss him

  • Beny Maissner
    Reply

    I too have fond memories of this giant man who stood up for his principles and was a proud Jew and of the loyal royal generations aristocrats of Holy Blossom Temple. I see him standing I the isles welcoming guests members and strangers and with assertive dignity show them to their places.
    I also remember Leonard as a tough keeper of order and décor, even at the cost of my own young and sometime misbehaved children.
    Leonard was a gentle man and a warm hearted person.
    We miss him deeply and will remember him with fondness as a blessing to us all. YEHI ZICHRO BARUCH

  • BIll Draimin
    Reply

    Leonard Levy and Morris Vigoda “patrolled” the aisles of HBT’s various gathering places like they owned them. In a sense, and while they were “on duty”, they did own the Temple. It was their dedicated and conscientious actions that contributed to the decorum and welcoming embrace of worship and prayer at Holy Blossom for decades. For over twenty years I had the distinct pleasure and honour to share with them security responsibilities. The congregations and staff were their second families, and Leonard and Morris wore their “red” boutonieres proudly and with distinction. They are dearly missed.

  • Paula Singer
    Reply

    I am saddened by the loss of this lovely human being Leonard.his ways were so vibrant and he was such a mensch.
    May his memory be for a blessing and just thinking about him I find that to be true.
    Sincerely
    Paula M.Singer

  • mrs. lilian schacter
    Reply

    I am so sorry for your loss. I knew Leonard as a very
    impressive man, gentle in his conversations with me,
    and always so proud of Holy Blossom and its history.
    May his memory be for a blessing.

  • Morris Cooper
    Reply

    Leonard was a true mentor to me as a young congregant in the 1970s, and as wise counsel during my time on the Board, and later as Temple President in the late 90s. He always had a smile and a firm handshake, and was fiercely proud of Temple and its members. He is missed.

  • Ellen Levy Reichbaum
    Reply

    So many people have shared their memories of my father and I am so thankful how many lives he touched. My brother and I can’t begin to express how grateful we are to The Rabbi and Temple for the help and guidance at this time. To the members of HBT. You are so fortunate to have a guiding light in Rabbi Splansky who works tirelessly to ensure our continued Jewish lives will be passed on to the new generations. Thank you

  • admin
    Reply

    I never meet Mr. Levy, but his stories – and stories of him – contributed to our Bulletin, to our video archive, and to many of the stories told at Holy Blossom Temple. Here are two of my favourite stories from Mr. Levy… rc

  • Debbie Spiegel
    Reply

    I have many fond memories of Leonard. In particular, he was so very proud of the beautiful vest that his mother had knit for him when he went off to war. He wore that vest throughout the war – so proudly – and continued to wear it for many many years after – specifically showing off his mother’s handiwork.
    The other memory is when he was joined by Marilyn Farber z”l on a visit to the Religious School sharing the wonderful history of HBT with our students. They were wonderful together and expressed their love and devotion for this community with such passion.
    May his memory be for a blessing. He will truly be missed.

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