BY ELLEN BRAUNSTEIN
Eve Levy is the granddaughter of four survivors, one of whom came from Warsaw and lost a hundred family members in the Holocaust.
The 41-year-old Orthodox Rebbetzin and mother of six draws inspiration every day from her two bubbes, who lived to be 98 and 100. She leads Jewish women on heritage trips to Israel and the Diaspora, all the while connecting them to Judaism in ways that are meaningful to them. She also co-directs an adult Jewish learning center on the Chicago north shore with her husband Rabbi Gadi Levy.
“My bubbes were a part of my life until I was 39 years old,” Levy said. “I grew up with such unconditional love from them. They were my best friends. They were my cheerleaders. They would always say, ‘Eveleh, you could do anything. You could change the world.’”
It was a trip to Poland and Auschwitz at age 18 that gave Levy her aha moment in life. “I happened to be in the gas chambers. There was this realization that if they all survived for me to stand here today, I have to do something extraordinary with my life. That’s when I really leaned into my faith and my Judaism and decided to make a difference in the Jewish world.”
Taking women to Israel to share her love of the land and of the Jewish people is Levy’s favorite part of her work. She has led 15 Momentum trips since 2010 and has more recently formed her own organization that leads adventure and immersive trips called Inspired Jewish Women.
The Poland-Israel Journey is especially meaningful to her. “Poland has over a thousand years of Jewish history. That trip is a very deep experience for me; it’s literally like a part of my soul.”
Hundreds of women have traveled with Levy to Israel “to rejuvenate their spark to Judaism. We provide inspiring and recharging trips for Jewish growth-oriented women who are looking to reconnect.”
Trips, like an upcoming one to Morocco, have sold out. “There’s definitely a big need and a thirst. After a couple of years of Covid-19, I think people are really ready to have community and experiences that are really transformational.”
Travelers range from children and grandchildren of survivors to Jews by choice. “They want to learn about the history that they have stepped into. We’ve even taken some non-Jewish women on that trip and it’s been so life-changing for them.”
After visiting Poland and Israel, women clamored for another trip. “They said, ‘where are you going to go next?’ And they literally said they don’t care where we go as long as we go together.”
Levy tried something adventurous and different by taking a group to Thailand. They had Shabbat with 300 Israelis at Chabad House in Bangkok. “I love showing and experiencing how we’re all so similar. Like we could go into a synagogue in Bangkok and they’re singing the same tunes you grew up with at your synagogue.”
“We’re one people, with one G-d, one Torah. There is much more that unites us than separates us. So that’s a very big underlying theme of all my experiences in life. It’s unity without uniformity. The same way we can be Jewish in our own way and yet have so much in common. That’s really what I run all of my experiences with that premise and there’s no judgment. Everyone’s coming from different places and that’s OK.”
Levy’s parents became gradually more religious during her upbringing in Canada. Her mother was a public-school teacher for over 40 years and her father was a CFO for RENA, a Jewish foundation for handicapped adults.
She met her South African husband, Gadi, 22 years ago on a blind date. It was love at first sight for Levy and this young rabbi. They got engaged after their third date. “It was just a matter of getting my parents comfortable with it. It was clear that we were meant to be together. It was a choice, a good decision. One of the best ones I’ve made.”
Eve Levy said that Gadi grew up with a very different Judaism. “He grew up with prayers, laws and observance. My family came into it very slowly. He came from a long line of rabbis. He was very knowledgeable about Judaism and it was always his dream to become a rabbi. He’s also mohel so he’s passionate about bringing Jewish baby boys into the covenant of Abraham.” He flies around the world for families having a ritual circumcision ceremony.
Since July of 2021, the couple’s L’Chaim Center in Deerfield, Illinois offers synagogue services and programming for Jewish adults. More than 1,000 people attend throughout the year. Before coming to the L’Chaim Center, the couple served in other communities that included Portland and Denver.
At L-Chaim, they offer adult education classes, Shabbat and holiday services, including for the High Holy Days. They offer marriage, parenting classes, a course on “Women, Wisdom and Wine” for mothers as well as “Torah and Tequila” for young fathers.
“We attract multi-generational people from many different synagogues, sometimes three generations come to our programs. We’re not a place for a certain type of Jew. It happens to be that my husband’s rabbinical ordination was Orthodox and I gradually became Orthodox. We’re here to show Jews the beauty of their heritage.
“We have the full heart of the Jewish people,” Levy said of the L’Chaim Center and Inspired Jewish Women. “This is not a job. This is our passion. We don’t sleep some nights because there is too much to do and we have all the energy for it because when you love what you do, you can do anything. You have a why.
“We believe in the Jewish people. We believe in the destiny of the Jewish people. It has to be good; it has to be strong. We don’t want to just survive; we want to thrive. My grandparents didn’t survive the hell that they survived in the Holocaust for us to assimilate. So I feel a lot of power and passion towards standing up for my brothers and sisters, making sure that they know what it means to be a Jew and how beautiful it is and how enriching their lives could be if they just take what is rightfully theirs.”