Rabbi Levi Meir Is Dead

Beth Jacob emails: "We announce with sorrow the passing of Rabbi Levi Meier, husband of Marcie Meier, father of Chana Gelb, Isaac & Yosef Meier, Malka Grebnau and brother of Rabbi Menachem Meier.   The funeral service will take place tomorrow, Monday, July 14, at Beth Jacob at 8:00 am. The burial will take place at Eitz Chayim cemetary in Beit Shemesh, Israel at 4:30 pm on Tuesday."

Devora Publishing wrote: "Rabbi Meier is a licensed clinical psychologist and a marriage, family and child therapist. He has written two previous books and is Special Issues Editor of the Journal of Psychology and Judaism. He lives with his wife, Marcie, and their children in Los Angeles."

I wonder if all the comfort Rabbi Meir gave others over the years was a comfort to him in his dying months?

The Beverly Hills Courier writes Aug. 9, 2002:

Rabbi Levi Meir is a California hospital chaplain who respects honesty and readers are bound to respect his book about facing death. In every chapter, the blossoming spiritual growth of a particular dying client named Joe takes Rabbi Meir, Joe, and the reader on a soothing spiritual journey based on the recognition and acceptance of reality. As Rabbi Meir writes on page 94, "How we journey through life is most significant. Our visions… give us strength to continue…" The promises of theological tenets, belief and disbelief in G-d, and the frank honesty of fear of approaching death lead to Joe`s and Rabbi Meir`s recorded conversations with developing and comforting insights that reduce Joe`s anxieties and inspire him to face the next phase of life with gratitude and reassurance.

A psychologist and the Jewish chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Levi does not clutter Seven Heavens – Inspirational Stories to Elevate Your Soul with oft-tried cliches so often employed by some rabbis. His prose is true to life, addressing the raw, nagging issues that distress the living and depress the dying. Instead of aphorisms and Toraitic tidbits about the wonders of suffering, Rabbi Meir provides his patients and his readers with compassion and the occasionally apropos Toraitic insight about appreciating life. Freely flowing conversations unhampered by lock-step cooperation with the polite, stultifying behaviors often shared by the living and the dying help Joe and Seven Heavens readers with the stuff all of us want to resolve. The rabbi`s heartfelt kindnesses enable Joe to become spiritually attuned and elevated after a lifetime of avoiding religious deliberations.

Poignant stories of Rabbi Meir`s other dying clients fill paragraphs that complement Joe`s developing insights. Levi`s written record of conversations about the G-dly soul, eternity and purpose with other people is vastly superior to the dreary proscriptions that some other allegedly spiritual leaders use on hapless, suffering listeners. Meir`s explanation to an exasperated surgeon that the reason the disappointed doctor never found a soul in the live bodies he operates on is because there is more to reality than physical vision. "You`ve experienced love. Have you ever seen it in a patient`s surgically opened body?" Levi asks rhetorically. The surgeon and the reader are left close-mouthed, realizing the enormous implication of the statement.

One of the most irritating responses a rabbi can make to a suffering person`s painful request for spiritually relieving insight is that "we are born to suffer" or worse, "you are being tested in your love for Hashem." It is a damning indictment against the compassionate aspect of Hashem, a spiritually bankrupt and childish point of view. The metaphysical reality of G-d is not something on which humans beings can offer reliable speculation. Mentally stable observant Jews simply do not eat traife or transgress other Jewish laws to test Hashem`s love for them. It is therefore exasperating to be informed that Hashem is capriciously toying with individual loyalties to Him. Rabbi Meir never goes there, preferring to focus on the heart-felt needs of the dying to reconcile their spiritual future with their physical past. He empowers his patients to bring the Divine into their last physical moments with music, art, speech and focused thought processes.

The manner in which he connects Joe to the angel Uriel is an astonishing act of kindness: the rabbi presents Joe with the high-quality copy of a painting that fascinates his dying client. Joe`s attraction to the depiction of a harbor becomes a metaphor for the soul`s spiritual tasks while becoming completely accepting of life and of individuals as they are. On the last page of the anthology of spiritually uplifting stories, even Rabbi Meir finds a startling and previously unnoticed spiritual gift in the picture. Perhaps it was a gift from Uriel or Joe. The book is certainly a gift to its readers.

Seven Heavens – Inspirational Stories to Elevate Your Soul belongs in private homes, hospices, and in the syllabi of social services professions. It is a book that should be made freely available to all mental and physical health care facilities so that practitioners and their clients can benefit from its spiritually satisfying lessons.


Is Islam a religion of war or of peace? Is it both? How did it start? What are its connections to Judaism?

These and other questions lit up my house the other night as part of an unusual Torah salon that has been gracing the Pico-Robertson neighborhood for the past 10 years.

It was started by writer and film producer David Brandes and has been informally called the Avi Chai group, after the Avi Chai Foundation (which until recently supplied the funding).

What’s unusual is that this is a group of 20-25 mostly unobservant Jews, many of them writers and filmmakers, who like to go very deeply into Jewish texts. For many years, the class was led by a scholarly Orthodox rabbi and author, Rabbi Levi Meir, whose approach was to dissect the many layers of an original Torah text by delving into Rashi and other classic commentators.

In other words, it was your basic hard-core yeshiva class for Hollywood hipsters.

I participated in several of these salons over the years, and I can tell you it is a sight to behold bright, hip Jews who haven’t spent a minute in a yeshiva take on a Torah scholar on the microscopic difference between two interpretations of a text. Put a black hat on the men and make the whole thing in Yiddish and you wouldn’t be too far from Mea Shearim.

What I also find remarkable is that many of the same people have been coming back, month after month, year after year. I find this remarkable because their deep attachment to Judaism has little to do with their level of observance. They have not chosen a religious lifestyle, which would obligate them to learn regularly. They are learning about their religion, rather than learning how to become more religious.

And as you’ll see, they are very adventurous in their learning.

Lately, under the tutelage of Rabbi Abner Weiss, the class has expressed a greater interest in history and theology, including how Judaism compares to other religions. The class the other night was the first in a three-part series on Islam.

After it was over, there was a strange silence among many of the participants. It wasn’t just that they didn’t want to wake up my kids, or that my mother’s desserts had sucked up their attention.

There was a sense that we’ve all been cheated. Not by the class — which was electrifying — but by the lack of serious reporting in the general news media about history and theology.

People were wondering: Why do we rarely hear about the history of Islam, about the role that wars and coercion played in its conception, about how the prophet Muhammad felt slighted by the Jews of Arabia, and about the many similarities between Islam and Judaism?

In an hour and a half, we gained more knowledge on Islam than in 1,000 reports of any major newspaper or news broadcast.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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