Rabbi Richard A. Levine ז׳ל was ordained June 7, 1964 from the New York school. He was born in Brooklyn to Julius (born in Russia) and Temma (born in Poland) both active Zionists and Jews. He is the youngest of three children. His older sister Rhoda had been a resource writer and programmer for Hadassah before making Aliyah to Israel in 1961 with her husband, the late Rabbi Jack J. Cohen. His older brother Robert has been a national officer of JNF for many years as Fund Raising Vice President and currently serving as the Education Chairman. Clearly Rich was raised in a family committed to Judaism and Jewish values. As a teenager Richard was very active in his synagogue and Young Judaea serving the latter as a national officer. He was a letter winner in varsity athletics at both his high school and college. Richard is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Often asked what kind of background was that for being a rabbi he has responded, “I always wanted to be the first rabbi who really understood his contract!” It did not help!
In the 1960’s he was asked by Sam Cook, an old Young Judaean himself, to work for NFTY because Sam felt there was a tremendous lack of “ruach” in the movement. The first summer Rabbi Levine traveled to four summer camps to teach song leading and Israeli folk dancing. The following year Camp Kutz opened and Rabbi Levine was asked to teach a national program on both of the above. Members of that first group included Debbie Friedman and Jeff Klepper. Eventually Debbie Friedman came to live with Rabbi Levine and his family after returning from a year in Israel and began her career in his synagogue and even wrote her earliest compositions such as, “Thou Shalt Love…” while in his home.
Rabbi Levine served two student pulpits and after ordination came to South Jersey full time to a congregation in Willingboro with 70 families. Within several years the congregation doubled and then tripled and eventually reached over 500 families. The congregation, Adath Emanu-El, moved to a new campus in Mount Laurel. Rabbi Levine retired in 2005, having served 41 years at the synagogue. His overriding philosophy is the congregation is the new extended family and every individual has his/her own way of expressing their Judaism. As a pulpit rabbi he desired for every member to feel a great love in being Jewish. To accomplish this he introduced many arts programs for Jewish self-expression; social action and musical programs; “Ask the Rabbi” nights, home study classes, and very successful “kallot” retreats at Camp Harlam. Another way of involving individuals was the creation of a layman’s “Bikkur Cholim” committee where some uncomfortable going to hospitals and senior residences made little gifts at the synagogue while others visited all the Jewish patients. He was elected to the position of Rabbi Emeritus but has still taught Adult Education in the community as well as giving a High Holy Day sermon each year. He has enjoyed leading “Scholar in Residence” programs in several communities.
Over the years Rabbi Levine has served as the first President of the Greater Philadelphia Board of Rabbis from New Jersey. He spoke, representing the Jewish community, at the program on July 4, 1976 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. He has had several television shows including a humorous sports show on a major Philadelphia network. On a more serious note he has served as the Chairman of the Ethics Committees both in Willingboro and Voorhees, NJ. He has served on the local Federation board for some twenty years and even chaired some financial budgets for the Federation. He has served as well on the regional board of the JNF and was asked to contribute a sermon to the JNF’s One Hundredth Anniversary publication. He has been President of the regional Reform Rabbis, the Tri-County Board of Rabbis and has been on the boards of Jewish Family Service and Jewish Education. Possibly a great claim to fame was Rabbi Levine has been the only member of the CCAR to chair two committees at the same time, the Retirement Committee talking about how rabbis should not wait until near retirement to begin their planning, and the Audit Committee to help get our movement out of serious financial trouble.
For many years Rabbi Levine was a guest lecturer as five regional high schools mostly on the subject of “The Concept of Self and Interrelations with Others.” He has also been extremely active in the regional Juvenile Diabetes fund raising for a number of years. His first visit to Israel came in 1955 and has been there some thirty times including escorting over a dozen plus unique trips where he has customized a special itinerary from beginning to end.
One of his greatest contributions was becoming the regional Coordinating Chairperson all the time it was in existence. He produced a quarterly newsletter and created special meetings for colleagues living at greater distances. Even though the CCAR ended the program he was asked to stay on for a few more years because it had been so successful helping colleagues.
Richard has been married several times. The first time to Judith Gittelsohn and the second time to Lois Golder. The last twenty eight years he has shared with Judith C. Levine. According to many they have a beautiful blended family of nine children (people have asked them to write a book about this) and presently have thirteen grandchildren. When asked whether he would have preferred to be a professional athlete, an accountant or lawyer or a rabbi, he has answered it is not even close. Being a rabbi is like a modern “Renaissance Man!” But the greatest joy comes from members of the congregational family whom over the years have said how Rabbi Levine has changed their lives. One wrote, “The first day I entered our Temple building my life and the lives of my family has changed. Now I truly feel I am a JEW. Being an involved Jew is more enriching than I ever dreamed.”