Rabbi Richard N. Levy was born in Rochester, New York, surrounded by a family with strong roots in Rochester’s Jewish life. His great-grandfather Isaac Lipsky (an uncle of Zionist leader Louis Lipsky) helped found the Leopold Street Schul; his cousin Ben Goldstein acted as Executive Director for his synagogue, Temple B’rith Kodesh. Those roots loosened after he moved to Larchmont, New York, though his parents, Mauree and Miriam Levy, were founding members of Larchmont Temple.
While preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, he decided he wanted to become a rabbi. Though writing occupied much of his time in high school and college (he was managing editor of the Harvard Crimson), his religious development continued and he entered Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, where he was ordained. His teacher there, Dr. Eugene Mihaly, introduced him to liturgical writing, which has remained a calling throughout his life. Immediately after ordination he was jailed briefly with seventeen other rabbis in a civil rights protest organized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in St. Augustine, Florida. Upon release he did graduate work at Columbia University and later became assistant rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, working alongside Rabbi Leonard Beerman and Cantor William Sharlin. He became Director of Hillel at UCLA in 1968 and Los Angeles Regional Hillel Director in 1975. He has taught in several fields at Hebrew Union College and has been teaching an ongoing course in Chumash in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Judaism. He taught for many summers at the National Hillel Summer Institute and the Hillel Leaders Assembly.
Rabbi Levy has edited a High Holy Day machzor, On Wings of Awe, a haggadah, On Wings of Freedom, published by National Hillel and KTAV, and he is now at work on a Shabbat siddur, On Wings of Light. He has lectured on prayer and other spiritual aspects of Judaism at synagogues around the country, and for five summers he was the Jewish Resource Theologian at the Coolidge Research Colloquium of the Association for Religion in Intellectual Life (ARIL). He chairs the Planning Committee for Making Diversity Work, which convenes interethnic conferences’ for academic and community leaders on the topic of campus diversity. He was elected Recording Secretary of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and holds an honorary doctorate of divinity from Hebrew Union College.
From Rabbi Richard N. Levy's Statement of Motivation and Purpose:
“Having known no Jewish experience during my childhood outside the Reform movement, I found at Hebrew Union College a window on the wider world of Jewish practice…. I learned how a teacher, a human being with strengths and weaknesses like us all, can still be an instrument for releasing the holiness locked inside difficult texts…. I became involved in civil rights at HUC, paralleling the experience I was having in my student pulpit in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, at the height of the civil rights movement in 1964…. Two weeks after ordination, I joined seventeen other rabbis who responded to a telegram from Martin Luther King, Jr., asking us to participate in a demonstration in St. Augustine, Florida, attempting to integrate a motel. Watching King’s fellow ministers persuading members of the Black church to get arrested the next day was an unforgettable experience with the spiritual side of social activism, as was watching King leaf through the Bible looking for psalms to inform his talk. While I was waiting to be booked into St. Johns County Jail for breach of the peace, the sun began to set on the little patch of grass where I stood alone, talking to the Black civil rights workers who were already crammed in their segregated cells. ‘Be careful,’ they told me, ‘sometimes the Klan comes out at night to practice.’ Whether they were teasing me or telling the truth, it seemed reasonable enough that I felt as though I might well have to come face to face with death, and, frightened child that I had been years before, I felt that the beliefs that had compelled me to come to Florida would also help me deal with whatever was to happen. Fortunately, the Klan never arrived. In prison, sweltering in the southern June humidity, we davened ma’ariv and shacharit, understanding anew what it meant to praise God as matir assurim (the one who releases prisoners).”
From His Letters of Support:
“Richard communicates through word and deed….I’m not sure how to describe it in words. It’s just that when he teaches, a very personal message comes across to students. You are not alone. Your soul, your n’shama can always be nourished…. I have come to realize since my course with Richard that several new doors have opened for me, releasing a flood of personal connections to Torah and Judaic study…. He plays several critical roles in the lives of his students. He is our role model, teacher, counselor, rabbi, and friend.”
Robert Alan Nosanchuk
“Richard Levy has been teaching Judaism for some twenty-five years. To teach as Richard teaches requires a combination of qualities: a lucid intelligence, a finely tuned literary sensibility…moral antennae that are alert to eternal truths but also to particular human situations, and – above all – a rare combination of self-assurance and humility. Richard’s is a nature that draws confidence from its associations – associations to great books, good people, and a loving God. In a life full of educational opportunity, I have never met as fine a teacher who was as clearly focused on the lesson and the learner, so little focused on himself.”
Rabbi Susan Laemmle
“Rabbi Richard N. Levy is one of the most humble, spiritual, and quietly inspiring individuals we have had the good fortune to work and study with over the last fifteen years…. We are members of the Los Angeles Jewish Community who have been involved with the Jewish Federation Council and its agencies for nearly twenty years…. Although we are orthodox Jews, strongly committed to a traditional expression of Judaism, we have always considered orthodox, conservative, and reform as adjectives rather than nouns and have worked with all Jews to better our community…. Richard Levy shares and lives this vision…. His utter sincerity of belief comes through so clearly that he cannot help but be a role model for others…. We have studied with numerous rabbis, pray and follow the halacha as taught to us by orthodox rabbis, yet we publicly refer to Rabbi Levy as ‘our rabbi.’… He is a gifted educator who educates not only through his classes and his writings but by the way in which he lives his life.”
Linda and Robert Mayman