by Naomi Vanek
Rabbi Joseph Levine was the thirteenth child of immigrant parents from Russia. He grew up in a traditional home in Pennsylvania. As a young man, however, he came under the influence of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, who represented for him an American rabbi, living out his ancient heritage in a modern democratic nation. America was a marvel to my father and its heroes were real to him. Rabbi Wise encouraged his ambition to become a rabbi.
When the Jewish community of Texarkana asked him to be their rabbi in the 1950s, it was a marriage made in heaven. They were becoming more open and American, including developing relationships with the Christians of Texarkana. My father reached out to all, and they welcomed him in turn. The Jewish and Christian groups met in synagogues and churches, shared ritual and symbolism, and learned the value of each other’s traditions without fear.