Original Article Published On The Connecticut Jewish Ledger
NEW HAVEN – If Jews are the People of the Book, then Rabbi Murray Levine can best be described as the teacher, reader, reviewer, collector and now donor of the book.
The 77-year-old “retired” rabbi teaches a class for area rabbis at Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel (BEKI) in New Haven and is preparing to lead a joint BEKI/Congregation B’nai Jacob trip to the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) on Sunday, March 20. Levine received rabbinic ordination from JTS 51 years ago, and he will now present an out-of-print autographed edition of Elie Wiesel’s book, “Ani Maamin” (“I Believe”) to the JTS library.
Levine is a lifelong book lover, and every book in his library has a story.
“This summer, I was vacationing in Pittsfield, Mass., and I came upon a used book sale, where each book was either one dollar or two dollars,” recounts Levine. “When I spotted the Wiesel book, I bought it. It is a cantata about the Holocaust, written in French” (with a facing English translation, prepared by Marion Wiesel).
According to the book’s introduction, “Ani Maamin” “can be called a poem, a parable, a legend – for it is all of these and more. It is a poetic retelling of a Talmudic tale.” Music for “Ani Maamin” was written by Darius Milhaud, and the cantata was performed at Carnegie Hall.
Only 750 copies were “prepared for the occasion,” and each is autographed by Wiesel.
Levine, familiar with many of Wiesel’s works, had never heard of “Ani Maamin” and contacted the JTS library. When Levine learned of the book’s significance, he decided to present the rare book to the world-renowned JTS library.
Levine wrote to Wiesel, inviting him to attend the presentation but he is unable to attend.
As a pulpit rabbi in Framingham, Mass., Levine had presented another book to the JTS library and organized a similar trip to tour the JTS campus.
Other books in Rabbi Levine’s library include books he reviewed for the (now defunct) Jewish Spectator magazine.
“For 35 years, I wrote book reviews for Trude Weiss Rosmarin at the Jewish Spectator; she would send me books, I wrote reviews, and I got to keep the books” (as compensation the reviews), recounts Levine. Of course, many books in Levine’s library are religious texts, which the rabbi has used throughout his distinguished rabbinic career, and which he continues to use today.
Levine served as a pulpit rabbi in the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn for 16 years and in Framingham for 15 years. During his 12 year “retirement” in New Haven, Levine has taught many classes. In addition to his ongoing course for New Haven area rabbis, Levine teaches classes in bibliodrama. Levine will lead a series of five bibliodrama classes as part of Elderhostel at the Nevele Hotel in the Catskills this May.
One special book in Levine’s library is a book he wrote (and compiled)
“At my 75th birthday party, I gave my three children copies of all the writings I have done over the past 35 years,” notes Levine proudly.
“Sefer HaChayim — Book of Life, a Book of Writings and Remembrances,” contains book reviews, letters from such notables as Dr. Louis Finkelstein, Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Barney Frank, and President Bill Clinton, and documents connected to his 1984 trip to the Soviet Union.