Meyer Solomon Levy

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Meyer Solomon Levy

Birthdate: (64)
Birthplace: London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
Death: October 11, 1916 (64)
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Solomon Levy and Elizabeth Levy
Husband of Annie Teacher Levy
Father of Sol J Levy; Herman M Levy; Mannie Levy; Miriam Kahn (Levy); Alphonse J Levy and 2 others
Brother of Sophia Roat; Rachael Fry; Israel Solomon Levy; Joseph Leonard Levy, Rabbi; Marcus Levy and 7 others

Occupation: Rabbi
Managed by: Andrew Gilbert
Last Updated:

About Meyer Solomon Levy

Rabbi, Melbourne, Australia (orthodox)

Rabbi, Temple Sinai in Oakland, California (1881-1891) (reform) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_Sinai_(Oakland,_California)#Friedlander.2C_Franklin_eras:_1893.E2.80.931919

Rabbi, Congregation Beth Israel, San Francisco (1891-1916) (conservative) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congregation_Beth_Israel-Judea

In 1881, the congregation hired Oakland's first rabbi, Meyer Solomon Levy. Born in England in January 1852 and raised there, he was the son of Rabbi Solomon Levy of Borough Synagogue in London.[21] Meyer Solomon Levy had been ordained in England as an Orthodox rabbi before he was twenty, and moved to Australia as a young man.[22] An early supporter of Zionism,[23][24] he had served as a rabbi in Melbourne before moving to California in 1872[21] or 1873,[23] where he served as the rabbi of Temple Emanu-El (then Bickur Cholim) in San Jose.[22] Levy was paid $100 a month (today $2,450), and donated a percentage to the poor.[25]

Levy came into conflict with Oakland's public schools, which refused to excuse Jewish students on High Holy Days. He petitioned that they be excused, but the superintendent and district went even further, and directed teachers not to schedule examinations for those days.[25] Although sensitive to the needs of the members, Levy was more observant than his congregants, which also led to conflict. He accepted the reforms of shortening the Shabbat services, and facing the congregation (rather than the ark) during prayer, but he successfully resisted attempts to adopt Isaac Mayer Wise's 1885 "Minhag America" Prayer-Book.[26]

Although traditional in some ways, Levy was progressive in others. "Deeply affected by the enlightened spirit of his day", according to historian Fred Rosenbaum, he "delivered lectures with titles such as 'Progress of Science' and, while at the First Hebrew Congregation, he invited Oakland's Unitarian minister to give a series of talks at the synagogue. Levy in turn was well received at the Unitarian Church, where he spoke on the theory of evolution."[24]

In 1885, the synagogue burned down, although the Torah scrolls were saved by a congregant who entered the burning building to retrieve them. Levy made prodigious efforts to raise funds for a new building, traveling as far away as Vancouver. The synagogue's female members also raised significant funds through a "Grand Fair". Their combined efforts were successful, and by 1886 a new building had been erected at 13th and Clay streets.[27] The structure had "Moorish elements inspired by Isaac Mayer Wise's Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati".[25]

The tensions between liberal-minded members and the traditional Levy were never resolved, and in 1891, the rabbi moved to San Francisco's Congregation Beth Israel.[26] That year the women of the congregation formed the Ladies Auxiliary (Temple Sisterhood), whose initial mandate was to assist the work of the synagogue's Sunday school, and increase its enrollment.[4]

During Levy's tenure, the synagogue had several congregants who were famous, or would become so. Ray Frank, the first Jewish woman to preach formally from a pulpit in the United States, settled in Oakland around 1885, and taught Hebrew Bible studies and Jewish history at First Hebrew Congregation's Sabbath school,[11][28] where she was superintendent.[29] Her students there in the 1880s included Gertrude Stein, later to become a famous writer, and Judah Leon Magnes, who would become a prominent Reform rabbi.[11][30] Magnes's views of the Jewish people were strongly influenced by First Hebrew's Rabbi Levy,[23] and it was at the building on 13th and Clay that Magnes first began preaching—his bar mitzvah speech of 1890 was quoted at length in The Oakland Tribune.[12]

Geary Street

Messing had served as rabbi until 1890, and was succeeded that year by M.S. (Myer Solomon) Levy.[20] Levy was born in England in January 1852 and raised there, the son of Rabbi Solomon Levy of Borough Synagogue in London.[21] Myer Solomon had been ordained in England as an Orthodox rabbi before he was twenty, and moved to Australia as a young man.[22] An early supporter of Zionism,[23][24] he had served as a rabbi in Melbourne before moving to California in 1872[21] or 1873,[23] where he served as the rabbi of Temple Emanu-El (then Bickur Cholim) in San Jose.[22] He then served at the First Hebrew Congregation of Oakland for ten years, but found the congregation not traditional enough for him, and moved to Beth Israel.[25] At Beth Israel he "organized a Hebrew School and a Sunday School, a sisterhood, and a men's club".[26] During his tenure, the congregation's religious orientation was Modern Orthodox.[8]

Joseph Rabinowitz joined Beth Israel as cantor the year the synagogue building at 1411 Geary Street was constructed. A "rich baritone" from a "famous family of Lithuanian cantors", he sang at Beth Israel until 1943. Despite Beth Israel's traditionalism, he was accompanied by both a mixed choir (that included women), and an organ.[8]

In 1905, the congregation started construction of an even larger synagogue building on 1839 Geary Street between Fillmore and Steiner Streets.[6][27] It was nearing completion when it was destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.[6] At the time, the congregation had 200 member families, and an income of $15,800 (today $420,000). Services were held on Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. The congregational school had 250 students and five teachers.[19] The members re-built at the 1839 Geary Street location, and dedicated the building in 1908.[28] An "imposing brick-and-steel" structure, it had an "elaborate wood-carved bimah" and stained-glass windows. Known as the Geary Street Temple, it was "the most visible symbol of traditional Judaism in the city for more than half a century."[8]

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Meyer Solomon Levy's Timeline

1852
January 16, 1852
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
1871
September 1871
Age 19
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
1875
February 17, 1875
Age 23
California, United States
1876
February 1876
Age 24
California, United States
September 6, 1876
Age 24
San Jose, Santa Clara County, California, United States
1878
1878
Age 25
California, United States
1885
November 1885
Age 33
California, United States
1893
1893
Age 40
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States
1916
October 11, 1916
Age 64
San Francisco, San Francisco County, California, United States