Carl and Sander Levin in 2010
Carl and Sander Levin in 2010, as they were honored by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Loving memories of Carl Levin were shared at the heartfelt, privately attended funeral service at Ira Kaufman Chapel.

Sen. Carl Levin was memorialized at a heartfelt, privately attended service at Ira Kaufman Chapel on July 30. Rabbi Ariana Silverman of the Downtown Synagogue and Rabbi Joseph Krakoff of the Jewish Hospice and Chaplaincy Network officiated. Burial was at Clover Hill Park Cemetery.

A public celebration of Sen. Levin’s life will likely be planned for the next month or two.

At the funeral, Carl Levin’s daughter Kate Levin Markel spoke about her dad. 

“He lived life to the fullest his energy was boundless,” she said. “He was so smart, and he used it to solve problems in the most creative ways, big and small. 

“Dad was blessed to be born into an extraordinary family, to grow up in that family, to be a part of that family and get incredible strength from that family.”

Also at the funeral, Sen. Levin’s heartbroken brother and lifelong best friend, Sander Levin, spoke about him. “Carl’s book, Getting to the Heart of the Matter, really expressed who he was,” Sander said. “‘Getting to the heart’ meant getting to the essence of what it was all about.

“If you read his book, what he liked most of all were the examples of where he stood on the side of the downtrodden — the dispossessed. And for those who ignored it — those who thought the main riches in life were their riches — he was willing to take them on, but never with rancor.

There could be no bigger heart [than Carl’s]. So, that really led him into every effort.

“We grew up together for 85 years,” Sander said. “When we moved, the first thing our parents did was to tear down a wall. And I think their example got into Carl’s bloodstream, and his life was tearing down walls. 

“And after that, we spent so much time together, in all of our pursuits, and with all of his determination and with all of his love.

“I think our lives together, if I might say so, sends a kind of signal of what life is really all about.”

Barbara and Carl Levin
Barbara and Carl Levin
Carl’s Best Friends

Rabbi Silverman noted that Sander, three years older, and Carl were, in Sander’s words, inseparable. “They lived in the same room together as kids and did everything with each other,” she said. “They played together, read the same books, listened to classical music together, went to camp together and snuck up to the balcony of Shaarey Zedek during High Holiday services together. In endless games of basketball in the backyard, Sandy can’t remember a time when he and Carl weren’t side by side. 

During Carl’s first year at Harvard Law School, he and Sandy were able to live together again.”  

The two brothers both served 36 years in Congress. “And in addition to their shared pursuit of justice,” Rabbi Silverman said, “they also began their lifelong passion for playing squash, which they continued into their 80s.

“Carl called Sandy his best lifelong friend, because in 1960 he met his best friend, Barbara,” Rabbi Silverman said. “They were set up on a blind date by Carl’s cousin Joe.

“They dated long-distance for a year. She was in New York, he was in Detroit, and they were married in 1961. Carl, a passionate Detroiter would not move to New York, so Barbara moved back to her hometown and got a job in Detroit.” 

Within five years, they had three daughters. “He adored being a dad,” Rabbi Silverman said. “Carl was a father who was full of energy, humor, love, playfulness and dedication. 

“Carl was, and remained, Barbara’s greatest fan. He adored listening to her play piano. He made sure she was able to go to law school at Wayne State and pursue her career.”

A Zest for Life

“In every way, Carl’s approach to life was so pure and straightforward,” Rabbi Krakoff said. “It was motivated by the desire to serve his fellow human beings — to make our state, to make our country, to make our world a better place than he found it. And he did this, each and every day, well beyond measure.

“Carl was a man of deep sincerity and authenticity — integrity and modesty. He embodied a zest for life that was so clear in everything he did. 

“He maintained not one, but two standing desks so he could pace back and forth, not ever having to sit down while multitasking.

“During his four-and-a-half-year battle with stage 4 lung cancer, he pushed himself forward every day, as he did with everything else in his life. Never for a moment losing his fighting spirit,” Rabbi Krakoff said.

“He did not complain, but only talked about how blessed he was. And he did this in each and every conversation until taking his very last breath.

“May the values, the essence and the brilliant legacy of Sen. Carl Levin live eternally in the souls of those who were so lucky to know him and love him.” 

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