BY DEBORAH MOON
Rabbi Gadi and Eve Levy arrived in Portland in 2014 intending to stay two years. With connections they have forged and the indelible mark they have made over the past seven years, their departure in June is “not really goodbye.”
The couple moved from Denver to Portland to join the Portland Kollel and serve as director of education and director of women’s programs, respectively. Rabbi Gadi also has served as a rabbinic supervisor for Oregon Kosher, a mohel performing ritual circumcisions, leader of two men’s trips to Israel and, since 2018, the rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Achim. Eve has led six women’s Momentum trips to Israel, two Poland/Israel trips, multiple women’s retreats and founded Inspired Jewish Women. In 2019, Eve received the Laurie Rogoway Outstanding Jewish Professional Award in recognition of her contributions and leadership in the greater Portland Jewish community.
Now they are leaving their roles as rabbi and rabissa of Congregation Ahavath Achim to lead the L’Chaim Center in Deerfield, Ill., which will draw on all the skills they have honed here. The center offers a wide array of classes, events, Shabbat and holiday services, retreats and trips designed to provide authentic Jewish experiences.
“Eve and Gadi have been an incredible asset to our community and of course, we will miss them,” wrote Ahavath Achim President Mark Berkovitch, announcing the couple’s departure.
The couple was “a real shot in the arm,” adds past president Renee Ferrera. “They brought in more new members to the congregation than we have had in probably 20 years. Each has their own special attributes, which we desperately needed.”
Eve says the congregation was invaluable to the couple, as well. She says her favorite part of being Ahavath Achim rabissa has been watching her husband in his role as a congregational rabbi (a role he will continue at the L’Chaim Center).
“It energized him,” she says. “I have never seen my husband so on fire as when he is in his rabbinic role serving people.”
Eve treasured the opportunity to explore Sephardic culture and learn Sephardic cooking.
“I married a Sephardic man but never lived near my mother-in-law,” says Eve. “The last three years have given me such pride in our Sephardic heritage.”
Learning to cook Sephardic recipes from Renee has been a highlight.
“I told her, ‘I will make your recipes, and my children will make your recipes – your legacy will live on,’ ” says Eve.
Renee says that Eve has been “a sponge … and wants to share what she is learning with the rest of the community.” So Ahavath Achim offered a weekly Sephardic cooking class for about six weeks before the COVID shutdown last March.
For Rabbi Gadi, getting to know Oregon and its people has been a gift.
“Oregon is one of the most beautiful states that I’ve been to, and I will miss the long drives that I’d take working for Oregon Kosher … I got paid to see this beautiful state,” he says. But he adds he is most proud of “the relationships we built with community members of the greater Jewish community. … Especially precious to us are those relationships with people who don’t see eye to eye with me on many matters. I see being able to come close to others as a great achievement.”
He says that while many consider the greatest moment in sports to be when an underdog wins, he feels the best moments are when the losing team congratulates the winners or when the winning player comforts the player who lost.
“If in sports … we can respect the efforts of others, surely in life we can, too,” Rabbi Gadi says. Pointing to the current rift in the political spectrum, he would love to see similar respect to those who see differently than we do. “I recognize that on both ends of the spectrum there is a small percentage sitting toward the extremes. Most people in politics sit between the 30- and 50-yard line.”
Eve says she has come to recognize “greatness” is a much broader spectrum than she had understood before. As an Orthodox woman, she used to believe keeping kosher and observing Shabbat were key elements. But at Ahavath Achim, where many do not keep kosher, she says “I have never met such good Jews with hearts of gold. They have taught me a lot.”
Eve is encouraging other women to step up and continue to lead programs. Post pandemic restrictions, she thinks people will need to “recharge our batteries.”
“My passion is to build up women … I want women to see themselves as leaders,” says Eve.
The retreats and trips she has led have inspired many women to do just that. Sarah Rosenberg Brown is among the many women who launched businesses and stepped into leadership roles after attending retreats. Sarah serves on the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and has launched a new business, Sarah Rosenberg Brown Coaching & Consulting.
“After traveling with Eve and attending her women’s retreats, I have taken a lifelong dream and turned it into reality, starting my own coaching and consulting business geared toward women and I soon will be offering nature-based retreats for Jewish women,” says Sarah. “Without Eve’s encouragement and belief, I am not sure if I would have ever made this happen.”
“When I first heard that the Levy family was moving to Chicago my heart ached, but I knew that the gifts, the energy, and the love that the Levy’s shared with the Portland community would endure,” she adds. “Rabbi and Eve Levy brought people together in a warm and open way that forged new bonds and provided a place to learn and grow. The seeds that Rabbi Gadi and Eve have planted within everyone who knew them will continue to grow even when they are in Chicago.
Another woman inspired by an Israel trip with Eve was Naomi Leavitt. “She helped me see who I was and had the potential to be as a Jewish woman and a mother and wife,” says Naomi, who was instrumental in bringing the Levys to Portland.
Naomi was working with Meira Spivak at the Portland Kollel to plan a moms’ trip to Israel when they learned of the work Eve was doing in Denver leading Momentum trips to Israel, which were sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project. After the Portland Kollel hired the Levys, Eve led the Portland group on a Momentum trip, sharing a bus with the Denver contingent.
“Eve had such a reputation, because it was like her ‘old sisters’ and her ‘new sisters,’ together,” says Naomi. “Her influence is so incredible.”
“After our trip, she and I went to a leadership conference for JWRP participants in Maryland, and we started Portland’s Shine for women after that,” says Naomi.
While Eve will leave Shine for Portland to carry on, she has launched a nonprofit organization called Inspired Jewish Women (inspiredJewishwomen.com) that incorporates the goals of Shine.
Eve plans to lead a trip to Morocco for 80 women in May 2022 – perhaps recreating the feel of her first trip in Portland uniting her old and new communities.
It is just one of the ways the Levys plan to remain connected with their Portland friends. They plan to host Portland visitors in their new home near the large airline hub of Chicago, with many friends already saying they will plan stops in Chicago when on trips elsewhere.
For now, they will receive a fond sendoff at events organized by Renee and Naomi. Renee is preparing a private Sephardic brunch for Ahavath Achim members, and Naomi is organizing a socially distanced (masks required) gathering at Cook Park in Tigard for the broader community. Both events will be June 6. RSVPs are requested for the community gathering: ahavathachimpdx.weebly.com/calendar
BELOW: Eve Levy, third from left, has led many women's trips to Israel.