The iconic funeral home honors its recently passed president, while his son plans for the future of the business.
For the fourth time since it was founded more than a century ago, Joseph Levine & Sons funeral directors will have new leadership. Adam Levine and his brothers Brian and Jonathon have taken the reins at the Philadelphia institution, following in the footsteps of their father, Joseph Levine, who passed away in June at 69 after battling pancreatic cancer.
The family is moving “onward and upward,” said the son.
Joseph Levine started working in the family business when he was 14, scrubbing floors and cleaning cars after school. He gravitated toward the business as he got into his adult years because of his passion for helping and giving, the younger Levine said.
“He wanted to help families and be there for people and never wanted to do anything else,” said Levine. “He was absolutely, overwhelmingly impressed with one of the greatest mitzvahs Judaism has to offer.”
Adam Levine can’t quite put into words why his father loved doing what he did so much, but he knows the feeling was passed on to him and his two brothers.
“Whether it’s instinctual or whether it’s learned, it’s tough to say, but probably for the same reasons my brothers and I have grown toward wanting to serve and do for our community, and we don’t necessarily know why,” he said.
Jonathon and Brian Levine are the other partners to whom the business has been passed — each operates a branch of the company in Trevose and Broomall respectively, while Adam is at Haym Salomon Memorial Park.
Their sister Lindsey, who has opted to not be as involved, has a smaller share of the business, Levine said, adding that their father wanted to pass the torch to continue serving the community as he had.
Joseph Levine was heavily involved — as a board member, and in many other roles — in organizations such as Golden Slipper Club and Charities, Jewish Learning Venture, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Passover League of Philadelphia. Among his many contributions to the community, Levine was also a committed member of Temple Har Zion in Penn Valley.
“He always had a very calming presence and was always very focused; he always made things move seamlessly,” said Har Zion Cantor Eliot Vogel. “The way he orchestrated things was always with great dignity.”
Vogel knew Levine for about 25 years, since Vogel first moved to the Philadelphia area. He delivered the eulogy at Levine’s funeral. Philadelphia native Rabbi David Wolpe of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles had a quote about Levine that Vogel used in his remarks, that he “could be warm without being cloying and caring without presuming too much.”
Vogel recalled Levine’s passion for what he did and the way he could help people.
“I could tell people really trusted him, people put their faith in him. He would get things done for people,” he said. “He was a servant. He understood the importance of his business.”
People’s trust in Joseph Levine stood out to his family, explained Adam Levine. “He can walk into a room where there’s someone who’s just left this world or it’s the Philadelphia Speakers Series, and he can throw out an air of compassion and love that’s made people so happy.”
Joseph Levine had a knack for making people comfortable and wanted to learn about them, said Rabbi Jeffery Schnitzer from Congregation Tifereth Israel.
“He took a genuine interest, not just a passing interest, in individuals,” Schnitzer said. “It’s easy to be part of a larger community and seek recognition but he never sought the recognition. He did what he did because it was the right thing to do.”
When he was starting out at the congregation in 1998, Schnitzer said the Trevose location had just recently opened and Levine invited him into his office to learn more about him during one of the first services he initiated at the location.
“He sat down with me, and he took a real genuine interest in me,” said Schnitzer.
Levine opened the chapel up to seventh-grade students at Tifereth Israel in conjunction with their lessons on the life cycle. There, they learned more about what Levine and his family did for those they served and the processes behind it.
“He helped me become a better rabbi in a very quiet way,” said Schnitzer, “in terms of making me more aware of not just my local congregation but the larger community as well.”
Looking forward, Adam Levine said he and his brothers are viewing their role as custodians of their father’s legacy.
“We have great things in the works,” he said. “He helped us to condition our minds to not just think, [but to] look forward and see where it goes — think big, think smart and go with it.”
To be sure, undertaking is not an easy business, and to be a source of comfort to those in mourning is no easy feat.
Levine mentioned how his father would answer the phone even at 2 a.m. and be that voice of comfort many were searching for. Providing that sense of empathy, no matter how small, for people in the middle “of one of the toughest times in their life” is something he has internalized.
“It means so much to me to be able to care for them and to give them compassion, sympathy and empathy, and this experience over the last 16 months has only helped to help me really understand it,” he said, “and that’s a gift that my father gave me.”
He said the outpouring of support from the community has been “unbelievable.” The family has gotten 40 to 60 letters and donations in the mail since the funeral July 1, at which roughly 1,000 people attended to support the family and pay their respects, he said.
Acknowledging his father’s legacy, Adam Levine said he and his family are using his father’s commitment to the community as a sort of business plan.
“We want to continue to do him justice and be a part of our community,” he said, “because we want to continue to be here.”
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