My Aunt Rita Levy died last week. Of all the siblings in her family, she was perhaps the least well known. Her sister Dorothy (Dottie) Morrell was considered the gatekeeper to the Orlando Jewish Community for many years, greeting and introducing new residents to those who lived here, and the cultural series at the Jewish Community Center was named after her. Sister Florence (Flossie) founded the Neighborhood Law Center in Orlando that served the poor and indigent for many years. Bea Ettinger began the Center for Continuing Education for Women, now run out of the University of Central Florida. And my father Jerry was many things to many people: a popular attorney and civil rights advocate, twice president of the Jewish Federation, president and one of the founders of Temple Israel, key to the establishment of the Kinneret Towers.
But if you asked people about Rita—the original Rita Bornstein before my mother or the president of Rollins College—you heard no stories about community building or visionary leadership. What you heard about was love, and in particular, her lifelong love affair with her husband, my uncle Morton Levy, who died of cancer many years ago.
There is no doubt that their relationship was a love for the ages, founded on depths and passion and strength that are uncommon nowadays. When he was a soldier overseas during World War II he wrote her a letter every day, profound letters that spoke to their love in ways and words far closer to Keats and Shelley and Yeats than any modern poetry. And after hearing it recounted again and again, by different voices with different expressions, I have pondered the meaning of great love a great deal, and while I have no great conclusions, I do have a greater understanding and appreciation for what it means to truly love.
Rita’s son Dan, his wife Jane and daughters Hannah and Sadie were over at our house one night to visit, and the subject of this monumental relationship came up. Hannah, a bright young woman of 21, made the comment that she understood what it meant to love so deeply, to which I quickly (really too quickly) responded, “No you don’t.” And while I may have been hasty in my interruption, I was right in my thought, for there is no way someone so young can grasp the depth of devotion, but even more than that, the necessary level of commitment and sometimes desperate work one must do to maintain a great love.
When Ben Affleck said, at the Academy Awards, that his relationship with wife Jennifer Garner was work, many people gasped. But he couldn’t have been more truthful or accurate. For love to endure it can’t be ignored, forgotten, or assumed. It must be exercised, pored over, considered or it will go dormant and ultimately fade. Whether we talk about a love of God, or our homeland or faith, the one thing I know, the one thing I am certain of, is that no love is easy. No love comes without effort. Even the spectacular love between my Uncle Morton and Aunt Rita must have had its ups and downs, its workload, its conscious struggle to maintain. There must have been stressful times and depressing times, times of separation and disconnect, but in the end they never wavered in their resolve to be together, and that is why, when people spoke about my Aunt Rita at her funeral and service, they spoke with admiration bordering on veneration. And it is why I can say, beyond a doubt, that I understand what it means to have a great love, because I have one of my own.
I have only been married once, and that is all I will be married. This week, as my wife approaches a landmark birthday, I look up to her with awe and devotion and appreciation for all that our love has been, both good and bad, easy and difficult. We married when she was a young woman of 22 and I a grizzled old 29, and it took us many years of serious, hard work and innumerable daily experiences and joy and suffering and a constant commitment to being together to make our love what it is. This is the tip of the iceberg, the barest words I can offer to describe my love, born of friendship and passion, blood and sweat and stains and scars and cast in ribbons of steel and ice. To my best friend and lifelong love, this is all I am, and all I am is yours.
And those are the good words. The opinions in this column are those of the writer and not the Heritage or any other individual, agency or organization. Send your thoughts, comments, and critiques to the Heritage or email email@example.com.