EZEKIEL JACOB LEVIN was born in Riga, Latvia, on July 3, 1905, son of Avraham Raphael and Henya Levin. Being a gifted child, he received his elementary schooling in a "Cheder Metukan," a progressive Hebrew school. There he excelled in the Hebrew language and Judaic studies. Levin's secondary education was provided by the Greek German Gymnasium in Riga. During this period he was active in the scout movement and was assistant scoutmaster of one of the large Jewish troops in Riga. After his father's early death, Jacob accepted his uncle's invitation and immigrated to the United States in 1923. His uncle, Yerahmiel Levin, brought him to Baltimore, Maryland, where he continued his Hebrew studies at the Baltimore Hebrew College and his general studies at the University of Maryland. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Labor Zionist party, Ziere Zion, and formed a Gordonia Labor Zionist Youth group, among the first Gordonia groups in the United States. The group encouraged immigration to what was then Palestine (now Israel). The Gordonia group marked the beginning of Levin's long and dedicated career as a Jewish teacher and Zionist youth leader.
He moved to Philadelphia in 1926, when he was hired to teach Hebrew. He taught at the Camden, New Jersey, Talmud Torah (Hebrew School), considered one of the outstanding schools of that time. There he met Tziporah Handelman, whom he later married. Both were active in Zeire Zion and also became part of a group called Kvutzat Gordonia. This group consisted of friends who were planning to "make aliya" (literally to ascend) to the land of Israel. With the group's decision to go to California for an agricultural preparation program, they traveled to Petaluma, California, in January of 1927 to work on poultry farms.
In 1929, through a contact with Rabbi Wolf Gold (a prominent New York Rabbi) and his brother, Rabbi H. Raphael Gold, rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas, Texas, Levin became principal of the Hebrew School of Dallas. During his years in Dallas he also organized a Gordonia group, later called Habonim throughout the amalgamation of the groups. The organization's name had already changed to Habonim when he organized groups in Houston and San Antonio. He developed the Hebrew School of Dallas into one of the finest in the nation through the use of a Berlitz-like method of teaching Hebrew. Students were called by their Hebrew names and studied all subjects in Hebrew. The prayer books were in Hebrew; instruction and explanations were in Hebrew. The curriculum was intense and reflected an in-depth Jewish-studies program. Classes were held in the afternoon after regular school. Levin also organized a Boy Scout and Girl Scout group sponsored by the Hebrew school. Along with the development of Habonim he founded Camp Bonim, a residential summer camp oriented to Labor Zionist, Hebrew, and Jewish studies. The camp was the only one of its kind in the Southwest, and many campers came to it. Levin served as camp director. He was a gifted teacher and touched the lives of his many students and those he worked with. He resigned from his position as principal of the Hebrew school in 1946 to take a position as an organizer and campaign director with Histadrut, which worked under the auspices of the National Committee for Labor Palestine. As Histadrut Southwest regional director Levin directed the Minneapolis campaign during Hubert Humphrey's term of office as mayor and received a supportive statement from him.
Levin became principal of a Hebrew school in Houston in 1948 and remained until 1953. He served as director of the United Hebrew School of Philadelphia until 1959. In 1960 he became the director of the Bureau of Jewish Education of Camden, New Jersey, a position he held until his retirement in 1971. During his later years in Philadelphia he was a lecturer at Gratz College and taught at the Philadelphia Akiba Academy, a Jewish day school. He retired to Israel but died during a visit to his daughter and her family in New Jersey in December 1983.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ginger Chesnick Jacobs, The Levin Years: A Golden Era, 1929-1951 (Dallas Jewish Historical Society, 1989).
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