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A Profile of Meyer Levin

At the age of 87, Meyer stands at about an average height. His profile is capped with a few thin patches of straight white hair. His pale face shows traces of all the events of his life. He has a boyish smile that transforms his round face so that it resembles pictures of his childhood in Russia. Slightly long thin fingers have completed many construction and repair projects. However, the once incomparable dexterity has succumbed to a minor quiver and an unfamiliar imprecision.

Despite his age, Meyer continues to be confident in his abilities and demonstrates this by taking on any project that he can devise. Even if the task is risky or deserving of a younger doer, Meyer refuses to abandon the idea and persists. However, more often than not, his determined persistent nature manifests itself in a loveably stubborn personality. Meyer doesn't give in without a fight.

This trait undoubtedly developed from his childhood need to survive. Meyer was born in 1911 in Alexandrovka, Ukraine and grew up during the early Russian revolution. His father left Russia for America while Meyer was still young. Eventually the family would join his father in America while Meyer was still only ten. In the interim, he and his family had to survive amidst pogroms, illness, and poverty. During this time he absorbed the Russian–Jewish culture of his heritage.

This culture became so ingrained in the young Meyer, that it is, to this day, an integral part of his personality. Everything must be related to his Jewish background. Meyer is perpetually telling jokes or testing his company's knowledge of the Yiddish or Russian language. However, when he is not talking, his mouth is occupied by whistling Hebrew and Russian tunes. As he whistles, his pride for his cultural base can be seen in a flash of his gentle blue eyes.

His fondness for his Jewish culture is matched only by his sense of loyalty to his new homeland: America. Meyer spent much of his life in America as a fruit and home furnishing salesman, selling door to door on the streets of South Philadelphia. Twenty years after Meyer arrived in this country, he eagerly entered service in the United States Army during World War II. He felt that he had a strong duty to defend his nation against the heinous crimes of 1940s Europe. He returned safely to his family at the end of the war where he resumed his sales route with even more respect for this nation. Even after having lived in America for nearly eight decades now, Meyer is still awed by the relative bounty that other Americans take for granted like supermarkets or Home Depot. “Only in America!” Meyer exclaims about things that he never would have experienced in Russia.

Meyer has always been amiable and compassionate. He quickly makes friends in a crowd of strangers or enters into a discussion with anyone within a twenty-five foot radius. Still, he lacks small common courtesies such as saying, “Goodbye,” before hanging up the telephone. Meyer is, also, very close and central to his extended family. Occasionally, he might induce a quarrel or two, but never manages to lose the respect and admiration of his relatives.

Meyer has, over the past twenty years, taken to writing his memoirs. The stories include tales of his childhood during the pogroms and of the efforts of his bold mother to bring the family to the United States. Others recount the horrific days he spent liberating German concentration camps in World War II. Also, included in his anthology are histories of the Jewish people. These writings truly sum up the remarkable and fascinating life of Meyer Levin. However, the real treat is to hear Meyer tell the stories of his life in person, which he will readily do whether asked to or not.

— Peter Torpey, 1998