Joseph Levine & Sons has provided funeral and burial services to the Philadelphia-area Jewish community for more than 130 years, but they haven’t been able to say they have a location in Montgomery County.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Brian Levine, one of the three brothers who own and operate the fifth-generation family business, which has locations in Trevose and Broomall. “This has been a project no less than 10 years in the making, and it took five years longer than expected.”
In that time, the Levines cut ties with their historic North Broad Street location.
While it wasn’t without some sadness that the family left the original building behind, they said the reorganization of their real estate holdings wasn’t just sound business but part of their duty to the Jewish community and its shifting demographics.
“When we closed Broad Street, it was always our intention to reinvest in the Jewish community and reaffirm our commitment to it as we’ve done for over 137 years,” Brian Levine said. “So we couldn’t be happier to honor that commitment.”
This commitment didn’t come without a push from the community. Sometimes the push was not so friendly.
“Some community members, they started using non-Jewish funeral homes, dissatisfied with the long driving distances to Trevose or Broomall,” Brian Levine said.
Rabbi Gregory Marx of Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, whose congregants will be served by Levine’s new Blue Bell location, which is slated to open in fall 2020, celebrated the strengthening of the Jewish infrastructure.
“Whenever a Jewish organization opens in our community, it strengthens us,” Marx said. “It tells people who are thinking of moving here that there’s a Jewish community here and a vital Jewish life here — even if it’s a funeral home.”
Marx expressed some incredulity upon hearing that some in the community found the distance of Levine’s other locations a deterrent to making or even attending a Jewish funeral there.
“Look,” said Marx, “it will only help and make it more convenient for members of my community and other synagogues in the area to participate and show respect for the deceased.
“Convenience is important,” he continued. “But the fact that people have to drive 20 minutes or a half-hour to go to Southampton (Goldstein’s Bucks County location) or Trevose versus 10 minutes to go to Skippack (the site of Levine’s new Blue Bell facility), that’s not going to be the deciding factor in whether or not someone is supporting a friend in mourning. If my friend is in grief, I’ll drive an hour. I can certainly find an extra 10 minutes to go and support my friend.”
As for the idea that members of the Jewish community would opt for a non-Jewish funeral home out of convenience, Marx was similarly incredulous.
“The vast majority of the funerals that I’m officiating at are either at Goldstein’s or Levine’s — and I’m a Reform rabbi,” he said. “I don’t do that many funerals at non-Jewish funeral homes.”
With the Blue Bell location, not only will sizable Jewish communities in Fort Washington, Dresher, Ambler and Plymouth Meeting have their funeral needs met, they’ll experience them in a setting described as “state-of-the-art.”
“We’re going to use technology, we’ll be able to webcast services live … these are things we’ve been able to do for years at Trevose that are still considered state-of-the-art,” said Jonathon Levine, another of the owner-operators.
“But we’re also going to have the ability to adapt the chapels. Some people want a smaller service and, therefore, don’t want the traditional setting of a chapel, so we’ll be able to adapt based on those needs. This will give people another option when it comes to how they want to remember their loved ones.”
The funeral business may be many things but it’s not for everyone.
“This business … it’s a different type of business,” Jonathon Levine said. “Emotional fatigue can definitely take place, but to have your brothers right there, that’s what’s rewarding.”
Meanwhile, according to Brian Levine, “Chester County’s Jewish community has continued to grow leaps and bounds.” Therein lies the impetus behind a 20-acre expansion of Haym Solomon Memorial Park near Malvern, which is scheduled to be completed within the next eight months and feature a space for outdoor funeral services.
“We don’t know of any other cemetery with an outdoor chapel,” said Brian Levine of the expanded park, which will nearly double in size.
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