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As she had expected, her father did tell her in no uncertain terms to forget about singing, but he relented after she cried for three days straight. “He warned me to never show them anything but my voice,” she said. He also insisted that she complete her high school education.
Levy was a professional singer from 1951 to 1969, appearing with the Peter Duchin Orchestra and other bands. She still sings today, though it’s usually something she does as part of talks she gives for organizations, Jewish and otherwise.
She has many amusing memories from her days in the music business. Aside from letter writing, Levy used to play Scrabble to while away the time between shows. “One time a guy saw me with my game set and asked me if I wanted to play dirty Scrabble! I said, ‘No!” she recalled. “I was rather sheltered because of my Orthodox background.”
Might this be a recollection she put down in writing for her grandchildren? “I don’t tell these stories to my grandkids,” she said. “They don’t need to know about my boyfriends before I met their grandfather!” (The state of Florida named Levy and her husband Grandparents of the Year in 2007.)
As much as her books are predicated on the importance of writing down memories, Levy admits that actions are ultimately more important than words. She advises grandparents to make memories with their grandchildren by doing things with them.
Levy’s grandmother taught her how to make chicken soup when she was 7 years old. “She was a Hasidic woman who wore a sheytl, and she didn’t use a recipe. I stood next to her, and she directed me to put things in to the pot. She’d say, ‘Sheet arayn’ — put it in, in Yiddish,” Levy remembered. “Every time I make chicken soup, she is there with me.”
Renee Ghert-Zand is a freelance writer covering Israel and the Jewish world for the Forward and other publications.