On May 23, at Temple Emanuel on Albany Avenue, former city assessor Ed Levine will become a man.
He turned 93 on May 11, 80 years after he came of age as a Jew.
“I had the feeling that when I went to temple I wasn’t completely in line with what a temple member was supposed to be,” he said. “Being Bar Mitzvah to me means I’ll feel like I’m completely Jewish.”
Under Jewish religion dating to antiquity, a boy automatically becomes Bar Mitzvah — literally, “son of commitment” — at the age of 13. He is thereafter treated as an adult in his community. Typically, novitiates (of any age) undergo extensive instruction in the Torah under the guidance of a rabbi or acknowledged authority before formal ceremonies.
“When I was 13, we lived in Highland,” Levine said. “I don’t think there was another Jew in Highland at the time and for me to get the lessons, I would have had to go to Poughkeepsie. A rabbi would have been employed to teach me, but we didn’t have a dime.”
Ed and Elaine Levine, his wife of 63 years (they met on a blind date) have been members of Temple Emanuel, a reform congregation, since the family moved to Kingston in 1964. Their son was Bar Mitzvah-ed there, but their three daughters did not perform the Bat Mitzvah.
Levine was a loan officer with the Kingston urban renewal agency in the ’60s and city assessor for 13 years. He was chairman of Kingston’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976. After serving briefly as a part-time building inspector, Levine retired in 1992. A lifelong Democrat, Levine maintains an active interest in local politics. He and his wife reside in Kingston.
Temple Rabbi Yael Romer allows that Levine isn’t a “regular,” but says his commitment to his faith and his Jewish community is extraordinary.
“Bar Mitzvah speaks to the meaning of being Jewish,” the rabbi said. “You’re Jewish by birth, but what makes us Jewish is how we live, our affirmation of community. Ed has been a lifelong member of our community, he has maintained his connections, his commitment, which is really beautiful. Ed and I have a very close relationship. He has a deep spiritual identity and a commitment to what it is to be a Jew.”
Levine said he thought about being bar mitzvah over the years, but it was the passing of his longtime friend George Svirsky at 92 two years ago that “got me to thinking.” Svirsky, a former director of the Kingston Chamber of Commerce, had his Bar Mitzvah shortly before his death.
“George had a lot to do with it,” Levine said.
Levine’s grown children presented him with a prayer shawl handmade by Jewish elders near Jerusalem.