Harvey Levine, who found meaning in a late-in-life second career as B’nai Brith Canada’s Quebec regional director, is being remembered for his self-effacing leadership and calm, reasoned voice in the defense of the Jewish community.
Levine died on May 22 from cancer at age 72.
He had been director since 2013, but was a B’nai Brith member and volunteer for 45 years, serving during that time as president of the Maple Leaf Lodge. In a professional capacity, Levine guided the organization through challenges that were both external and internal, ensuring its continued presence in Montreal.
The major project completed during his tenure was the construction of Château B’nai Brith, a subsidized seniors’ residence in Côte St. Luc.
He offered a Jewish community perspective on contentious Quebec legislation, such as Bill 21 and earlier proposed laws affecting religious minorities. The son of a Second World War veteran, Levine could provide context when explaining why anti-Semitism and all forms of intolerance should be of concern to Quebecers.
Eric Bissell, honorary president for life of B’nai Brith, who was instrumental in persuading Levine to take on the post, said, “He loved his work and dedicated himself to fighting anti-Semitism. He was a great spokesman. He was enthusiastic about Israel advocacy; all the things that were important to B’nai Brith were important to him. He had great enthusiasm, great zeal and wonderful dedication. He could light up a room with his smile and exuberance.”
B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn agreed that Levine’s personal qualities exemplified the organization’s “people helping people” ethos.
“For decades, during the Hanukkah holiday Harvey was always so proud to lead a group of volunteers, including the teenagers who represent the next generation, to the Jewish General Hospital—going room to room and bringing a little sunshine to those who were going through serious health challenges.
“That’s just who Harvey was. He was a mensch through and through, and he always had a love for B’nai Brith in his heart.”
Ted Greenfield, a past president of B’nai Brith, said Levine was “a very devoted, very caring kind of person, very respectful. He enjoyed life, cared a great deal about the issues that affected the Jewish community and, in fact, the issues that affected everyone.”
Before joining B’nai Brith as director, Levine was a senior executive in the pharmaceutical and medical publishing industries. He had been president and was an honorary life member of the Pharmaceutical Marketing Club of Quebec, president of the Canadian Association of Medical Publishers, and a vice-chair of the marketing section of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of Canada.
In February, Harvey was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the City of Côte St Luc. “Harvey was a best friend to our city,” said Mayor Mitchell Brownstein. “He was respected by all as a kind, caring person, always ready to serve his community with passion.”
David Birnbaum, member of the National Assembly for D’Arcy-McGee, described Levine as “a stalwart in the fight against anti-Semitism and for equal access to justice and freedom for all.”
Rabbi Alan Bright of Shaare Zedek Congregation, who officiated at his funeral, said that family was most important to Levine, whose love for Doreen, his wife of more than 50 years, never dimmed. He is also survived by their two daughters, Zena and Selena.
After them, serving the community was “the central theme of his life.”
He was indeed a nice guy with a great sense of humour, but Rabbi Bright said Levine would speak his mind, “although he was never hurtful or judgmental. He never spoke ill of others.”