By Levi Clancy for לוי on
BIOGRAPHICAL MEMORIES OF DAVID LEVI
This story was pieced together from the historical record and the recollections of Joseph Lazarus, May Levi Kaufman, Myron Levi, Marci Miller, and other family members.
David Levi was born on September 1, 1890 in the little town of Dziewieniszki, Russia. He was the youngest son, and second to the youngest child, of Mr. & Mr. [sic] Meyer Lewin.
By 1897, a movement called the "Bund" caught hold in Russa as an organization representing the working class of people, that is, the laborers. Somehow, this idea was attractive to David and he kept the welfare of workers in his mind from a very young age and for all time. By 1899, the older siblings of his family started to emigrate from Russia and move to England. Dave was still a little young for that so [he] stayed behind with his parents and younger sister, Fratka Lewin who we knew as Fanny Forman. In the meantime, the labor movement was progressing and spreading to become the "Arbeiter Ring" in Europe.
Around 1905, Dave emigrated to Leeds, England and joined there with his siblings Malka Lazarus, Breina Whittenson (later changed to Levy), Itka "Ada" Singer, Morris and oldest brother Mattis "Max" Levi. At that time, his brother Morris and his brother-in-law Sam Lazarus, had a small stitching business in Leeds and Dave went to work for them. Apparently Morris and Sam were not treating their employees fairly, in the opinion of Dave, because he soon organized the tiny work-force to ask for higher wages. The 1905 date of Dave's arrival is an approximation based upon his abscence [sic] from early 1905 photographs but his presence in the wedding party picture of Morris Levi to Annie Lazarus which took place on August 8, 1907. Dave appears in that photograph with a lady friend of that time and, as Myron Levi recalls his mother telling him, Annie was somewhat upset that he brought this lady with him to the family gathering. No matter, as Dave was soon to meet his sweetheart, Mary Cooper, and they were married in Leeds on December 26, 1908. They met when Dave was an actor at the Leeds Yiddish Theatre, according to Marci Miller. David and Mary had a son, Saul Levi, we believe in 1910, the year we think that Dave emigrated from Leeds to Toronto, Canada. We do not know if he was aware of the baby before he left or not.
The next Spring, May 1911, Mary must have bundled up her little boy and, with 12½ year old Joseph Lazarus in tow, left for Toronto to join her husband and the other fmaily members who had already settled in Toronto. The David Levis had a few addresses while in Toronto between 1910 and 1914. In 1913, Mary became pregnant with daughter May but in that same year, her young son, Saul, died of a brain tumor. Dave worked as a tailor and sewing machine operator while in Toronto. May was born in Toronto in May of 1914 and the family left for California the same October.
We are not quite certain of the exact addresses for the David Levi family in the earliest of years but it seems that at least a couple of years were spent in the Visalia area, where it is said, they lived for a while in a tent. There is also some vague family memory that they may have been in Reedley for a short time. Eventually, they ended up in Fresno to stay, as of February 15, 1917.
In Fresno, David went into partnership with his brother Morris in "Levi's Furniture Company". They did quite well and, according to Joe Lazarus, branched out into other businesses such as "Levi's Sack Company", "Levi's Trucking Company", etc.*[See Family-Book-11-002] By this time, Dave and Mary had a daughter, Evelyn, who was born on August 28, 1916. Almost 17 years later, Evelyn took sick while on a trip to Huntington Lake with schoolmates and died. Another daughter, Mildred, was born in Fresno on August 20, 1921, followed by a fourth daughter, Norma Dee on February 16, 1930. Norma also died prematurely, of cancer, on August 10, 1983.
Somewhere along the line, David and Morris Levi ended their partnership and Morris moved to Hanford and other locations, which can be found in his biography. Dave then started Levi's Pipe and Supply Company and, later, Levi's Iron and Metal Company. Both were very successful business [sic]. May Levi married Sol Kaufman in 1935 and Sol went into the business with Dave in the Pipe & Supply Company. Mildred Levi married Ted Weiner and Ted entered into Dave's Iron and Metal business. During all this time, Dave kept his interest in the labor movement. In the United States, the "Arbeiter Ring" evovled into "Workmen's Circle". During the depression, Dave also was affected by the economic down-turn so he approached his employees and worked out a plan where nobody lost their jobs because everyone was cut down to four days a week.
Dve had heart trouble and died in 1954. The Pipe company was liquidated in 1960 and, today, Ted Weiner and Sol Kaufman continue as partners running Levi's Iron and Metal Company. (The business was sold in the Spring of 1989 allowing Sol and Ted to retire).
David and Mary Levi celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary at the Fresno Hotel in December of 1948. It was quite a gala affair with an open door to members of the community. To mark the occasion, they were honored by the Israeli Histadrut, for which they had worked and given support. It is a paradox because, as grand-daughter Marci recalls, "they were adamant about assimilation into America. They spoke only English and were distinctly on-religious". However, this didn't stop David and Mary from being proud supporters of Israel. Sarah and Rosalyn Levi have written moving testimonials which are on a separate page in this section of the book.
Daughter May was the President of the Women's B'Nai Brith in 1941 and Sol was the President of the Men's B'Nai Brith the same year. As an aside, Mary always said that God gave her another Saul when May married Sol, thus replacing her lost infant son. Sol Kaufman served on the Fresno Grand Jury in 1955. May is a Life Master of Bridge, an honor earned in 1966. Son-In-Law Ted Weiner was the Governor of Lion's Club Group 482 from 1973-1974, one of many Lions in the family which included Ben and Joe Lazarus and Donald Singer.
Mary Levi had learned to play the violin when she was a little girl and kept her 3/4 size violin until, around 1945, Hillel Lazarus started to take violin lessons. She promptly gave her childhood violin to her nephew. Those lessons didn't last long and were replaced by piano lessons. Somewhat later, Nellie Goldberg, Gloria (Baylinson) Goldberg's daughter, decided to study violin so Hillel sent her the instrument. It has since been returned to Hillel and is now available to any family member who cares to take violin lessons and who will care for this sintrument and keep it in the family. Mind you, it is for a small person. It does say "Stradivarius" in it and is well over 100 years old, but it is only a copy, not a valuable original. Mary died in 1966.
*Footnote: May Kaufman is of the opinion that Dave and Morris Levi were only partners in "Levi's Furniture Company" but not in Dave's subsequent businesses.
DAVID LEVI TESTIMONIALS by SARAH and ROSALYN LEVI, June 7, 1988
When David Levi came to the United States, he was like most young people, looking for a just and free country to be able to work and prosper. He was very intelligent and knew how to express himself. He succeeded by hard work, but never forgot his home and the people he left behind, and he supported them all of his life.
He was sensitive to Jewish and community problems and was a member of the "Arbeiter Ring". He helped build a center for Jewish people to meet and, when this organization dissolved, he made sure that the money realized was sent to Israel. He also helped to build a temple in Fresno. He was a pioneer in everything, including the City of Hope and many local organizations. He not only helped to bring over family members from Europe but also gined for strangers so that theycould come to and then he took on the responsibility to find them jobs. I really can't tell you how much he did for the community.
I still have a page from the "Jewish Forward" of New York, printed February 17, 1954, paying tribute to his memory. To us, Uncle David and Aunt Mary were like parents. We will never forget their help, kindness and advice. People with a Jewish message were always welcome at the Levi home. Uncle David accomplished a lot and left good memories and a good name. Uncle Dave was a very nice man.
Almost 25 years ago, I stoped for gas on the way to work. At that time, I was teaching 6th grade. I had a gas credit card and when I signed the card slip, the elderly station attendant waiting on me looked at the last name: LEVI. Then, after a moment, he asked if I could be related to a man he had known by the name of David Levi. When I replied "yes", he immediately sang the praises of what a wonderful and kind man he was. I don't remember in what capacity he had known Uncle Dave, but it was always with me that this stranger had been so touched by him.