It is with great sadness and a profound sense of loss that we inform you of the death, this Friday, June 21, of our beloved teacher, friend, colleague and rabbi, Richard Levy.
It hardly risks exaggeration to call Richard a giant of our generation. He began his rabbinic career, within weeks of ordination from HUC-JIR in 1964, in jail, after desegregating a pool in St. Augustine, FL, under the leadership of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Later, in Los Angeles, he served as assistant rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple, and subsequently led both UCLA Hillel and the Los Angeles Hillel Council. Finally, as our campus’ director of the School of Rabbinical Studies until 2009, Richard oversaw the shift to a full-fledged rabbinical program. He continued as rabbi of the Synagogue and director of Spiritual Growth until 2014.
Ever the intellectual and spiritual thinker, Richard also emerged in these years of organizational leadership as a major liturgist. He contributed to the 1975 Gates of Prayer, and beyond the Movement, he edited and translated On Wings of Awe, On Wings of Freedom, On Wings of Light. In 2017 he completed his translation of and commentary to the Book of Psalms, called Songs Ascending.
Perhaps Richard’s influence is most associated with his 2005 book, A Vision of Holiness, in which he reworked the 1999 CCAR “Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism,” the platform he championed as the CCAR president and which enshrined our Movement’s shift to greater traditionalism. In this chapter of his career, Richard, as much as any single person, was responsible for the flavor and orientation of Reform Judaism as we widely experience it today.
Most of all, we on the Skirball Campus knew Richard as our colleague, teacher, and dear friend of many years. For all his professional genius Richard was, for us, the rabbi who sought to excavate his own soul, as well as the souls of those whom he encountered—always asking piercing questions posed with a remarkable gentleness and unabashed human interest. He was not above a wry smile and ironic remark, nor did he shy from an ideological argument. But he emanated indiscriminate kindness and warmth, the ultimate mark of his personality and, we believe, legacy.
How much greater the love he held for his family? Of his wife of 43 years, Carol, who died in 2015, he spoke with frank passion. And his heart always resided with his treasured daughters, Sarah and Elizabeth, the objects of his greatest tenderness and admiration, just as he expressed special affection for their husbands, Connor and Chad, and of course for his grandson, Elijah.
We know we speak for the entire campus community, when we offer our most heartfelt condolences to Sarah, Elizabeth and their families, in the hopes that, in sharing their grief we might also, in some small way, lighten it.
Funeral services and burial will be held on:
Tuesday, June 25 at 11:00 AM
Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 W Centinela Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90045
Reception and Shiva information to follow.
May God console Sarah, Elizabeth and their families, together with their fellow mourners of Zion and Jerusalem,
Dr. Joshua Holo, Dean
Dr. Madelyn Katz, Associate Dean