For decades, Sandra and Jacie Levinson’s philanthropy and kindness helped so many, often in unheralded ways, and the stories still resonate today.
When her family’s bakery was in trouble, Dorothy Hanna knew whom to call. In the early-1970s, she received an order for an event. When she heard that it was a religious group, raising money for children, she offered the pita bread for free.
“My parents believed in hard-working, God-fearing people,” says Dorothy’s daughter Karen. “If it was a religious organization – it didn’t matter what religion – they gave them the first 20 packets of pita bread for free. The women at the Jewish auxiliary were totally blown away.”
The next week, a headline in the Ottawa Journal newspaper read: Lebanese bakery donates to an Israeli cause.
“This was smack dab at the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict in Lebanon,” says Karen. “The Lebanese and Arab community were our bread and butter. Everybody started to boycott the bread.”
Dorothy, who is now 88, turned to Jacie Levinson, their insurance broker, for help.
Jacie Levinson did what was typical for him. He said, “Leave it with me. I’ll take care of you.”
He called Norman Lesh of the Loeb grocery store chain. By the next week, Hanna’s pita was being sold in Loeb stores across Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.
“That made the foundation for our family business,” Karen says. “Jacie was one of the few who knew where his wealth stood. It stood in giving.”
Jacie Levinson died in October 2016, at 80. His beloved wife Sandra passed away just five months later, when she was 79. While nothing diminishes the pain of losing their parents, the Levinsons’ sons have taken a measure of comfort knowing that their parent’s legacy of giving and helping continues. They left a sizeable bequest to the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation that ensures that causes important to them, such as Jewish Family Services, continue to receive funding.
When the Levinsons’ eldest son Steve called the Foundation to discuss the significant gift that would be coming to the Foundation after his mom’s death, he explained that he and his brothers were fully supportive of their parent’s decision to be as generous in their death as they had during their lifetime.
“Our parents taught us, through their actions and level of commitment to direct involvement in community organizations both within the Jewish community and greater Ottawa community, that one must get involved and give back. Through expert advice, they were able to structure their estate planning such that they could provide a substantial gift to the Foundation that would allow them to keep the family business and holdings intact for the generations that follow.”
With their parents passing, their sons learned even more about their parents’ generosity.
While sitting shiva for his father, Michael saw someone he didn’t know. He asked what his connection was. The man in Orthodox dress told him that when he needed space for his yeshiva, he called Jacie. “He didn’t know my father, and my father didn’t know him, but my dad found a room for the school at Kehillat Beth Israel.”
When Michael was at a party in Toronto, he ran into someone he remembered from Camp B’nai Brith who has a brother with a developmental delay.
“I found out that, every year, my dad would take these kids with physical and mental handicaps to the Rideau View Golf Course and give them rides in a golf cart and treat them to a barbecue,” says Michael, the middle son.
“My father preferred to be in the background,” he adds. “It’s been a real eye-opener for me, the things I’ve learned even since his death. Giving money is easy; it’s about being generous with yourself.”
According to Steve, the couple was quiet about the good they did.
“I worked with my dad for 15 years, and there was a revolving door of gentlemen who would walk in looking for help,” recalls Steve. “He was always there for them.”
Daniel, the youngest, says his parents have left a unique legacy.
“If I think of my parents, and their sense of Judaism, it’s that sense of fixing the world and making it better than you found it. Through so many small details, it is this remarkable sense of responsibility. It has influenced the way my wife and I interact with our community. We may never know the full extent of our parents’ legacy and the many lives they touched. We try to honour their memory and legacy by continuing in their footsteps with the values they taught us and a mindset towards tikkun olam.”