Josh Levi: a life too short

February 9, 2020 by  
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Josh Levi was a highly-respected father, husband, son, brother, colleague, friend and relative. He died last weekend at the age of 36. Rabbi Mendel Kastel delivered this eulogy at his funeral service on Friday morning at Sydney’s Central Synagogue.

For a 36-yr-old he lived a very full and packed life.  Hie eulogy was never going to be short. There was too much to say and this storyteller’s own story reflects this.

Rabbi Mendel Kastel:

It is ironic that for a man whose life was about words – words will never do justice to his life.

Joshua Daniel Levi – Josh, Joshy, Losh – was born on 2nd October 1983 to his besotted parents, Ann and Ian. From the moment he was born, Josh was ready to live life large – with big, rosy cheeks and huge feet!

He was 15 months younger than his big brother, Ben, and while they had their “brotherly” moments, they loved each other deeply – a love that really grew in recent years. Josh was blessed to grow up with a huge, warm, loving, extended Kraus/Levi family. A family of 17 first cousins – born within 8 years of each other. Josh enjoyed a childhood of fun, joy, laughter, and plenty of chaos…

Josh went to school at Mount Sinai college – a school that is very dear to the Levi family, with Ian serving as President of the school and Ann president of the PA. Josh, with his knack for finding loopholes, discovered – with the help of his best friend Joel – that they could be the only kids in the class to sit on special swivel chairs and use laptops for their work… in 1994.  How did they achieve this, you might be wondering? Josh and Joel refused to write!

Josh was a negotiator from birth.

Every week, when his Aunty Vivi would drop Ben and Josh home from school, Josh would convince Aunty Vivi to buy him increasingly more “special” footy cards, promising each week that it would constitute his next birthday present… In fact, Josh was so known for his people skills and constant chatting, that one of the only times he’d be quiet was when he was eating an after school ice cream treat from the local corner store – on what street –  would you believe it – Canberra Street?!

One day, Josh closed the back door to the car and was unusually quiet on the drive home. Ann assumed that this was because he was enjoying his ice cream, only to realise that he hadn’t actually got in the car… Driving at Levi speed (oh yes, Ben and Josh’s driving habits were indeed inherited), Ann raced back to find Josh inside the milk bar, chatting to the owner, in the hopes of using his sad story to wrangle further footy cards.

Josh went on to attend Moriah College high school.

Dissatisfied with the existing morning prayer groups, our ingenious Josh decided to start his own one, doing a mitzvah and running the Year 7-8 boys’ morning prayers.

It would be fair to say that not much praying actually occurred, and it was such a popular poker game – no, I mean prayer group –  that Josh had to turn kids away at the door…

Josh was a people person from a young age – a talent he inherited from his parents and grandparents – especially Ann’s father, Sziga. He always knew how to work the room and would become buddies with the most important people.

So, at school, Josh identified this VIP to be none other than the school Principal, initially Morrie Finburg, and later Roy Steinman. Josh was virtually untouchable, and never feared teachers’ threats to be sent to the Principal – after all, wasn’t this just a coffee date?

Always one to celebrate a milestone, Josh also made Ben’s high school graduation a moment he’ll never forget.

As Ben sat in his Dad’s car on Liverpool Street Dover Heights with friends, outside a Moriah graduation party, he was startled by the sound of screeching tyres.

Looking up, Ben saw a car flying headfirst towards him.

Worse still, he recognised the number plate. It was his own car… Josh had borrowed Ben’s car, and the two boys had a head-on collision outside the party, with all of Moriah there to watch.

Nervously calling Ian, Ben said “Dad, where are you? Can you come to Dover Heights? Josh and I are both here”.

Panicked, Ian replied, “Which one of you has had an accident?”. Pausing slightly, Ben said, “Ummm… both of us…”

When it was Josh’s turn to graduate high school the following year, he and his cousin and best friend, Amy, jetted off for a 6-week, round the world holiday – announcing their newfound independence; planned, booked and paid for by their mothers!

When Josh returned from this trip, he had a big decision to make in terms of what career he would pursue…

He received the following advice from his parents – “we will support you in any career decision you make on the proviso that regardless of what you choose, you will strive to be the very best”.

Clearly, Josh did not disappoint!

The Joshua Levi smile

As someone who was always in the know, and loved people, storytelling, entertaining others, and a good argument, he decided on journalism. Starting as a volunteer sports’ writer and photographer at the Australian Jewish News, his talent and enthusiasm were undeniable, and Josh went on to work his way up to becoming CEO of the paper two years ago.

As the AJN wrote in their moving tribute to Josh, “he was responsible for some of the paper’s biggest and most important stories – most notably covering the scourge of child abuse in the community and the 2015 Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse, for which he won a number of prestigious awards”.

Josh’s journalism was always and solely motivated by what was in the best interests of the community.

He was a man of the utmost integrity, never shying away from the truth, and refusing to hold back, even after being sued… more than once.

They movingly described Josh as “the heart and integrity of the AJN”, saying that “The paper has lost its soul, and the community has lost one of its most dedicated sons”.

Josh was invested – professionally and personally – in the continuity, safety, and future of our Australian Jewish community.

Josh was a journalist, someone that could be trusted to ensure that his story would benefit the community and that confidentiality in that which could not yet be written would be ensured.

The Levi family acknowledge Bob Magid, owner of the AJN, as a great supporter and respected mentor to Josh who helped shape his career, offering Josh opportunities that allowed him to realise the heights of his potential.

Josh made our community feel more inclusive and connected, with tributes flowing from a myriad of devastated organisations, rabbis, presidents, colleagues and friends over the past few days.

Whether Josh was meeting with Prime Ministers, Presidents, dignitaries, VIPs, or just ordinary folks, he treated them with the same respect, kindness, and genuine mateship.

However, Josh’s contributions to the community, while extensive and impressive, pale in comparison to his contributions to his family.

Josh was the life of every party and would light up any room the moment he walked in, with his “Good morning” greeting (said at any time of day), huge smile, and infectious laugh.

Ann and Ian were blessed with two menschs for sons (and later two gorgeous, remarkable and loving daughters-in-law) – whose capacity for love, compassion, and giving to others, knew no bounds. And these traits can only be attributed to the character and values of their parents and grandparents – a family who gave Josh the very best start in life and supported him to become the remarkable man that he was.

Josh saw and internalised the significant sacrifices and contributions that his parents and grandparents made for their family, their friends, and their community.

Josh bonded with his Dad Ian through kite-flying, ten pin bowling, golf, driving, their absolute lust for well-designed spreadsheets and mutual interest in unusual art pieces featuring birds. Josh and Ben both enjoyed the opportunity to travel to Hungary on separate occasions with both father and grandfather. A trip that brought both boys (who are 4thgeneration Australians) closer to the horrors of the holocaust and allowed their grandfather to share some of his own holocaust stories, his heritage and his love of Europe.

As for Josh’s beloved Mum, Ann. The two of them were, in many ways, cut from the same cloth – with big hearts, and a beautiful ability to feel for others – especially when the Manly Sea Eagles or Canberra Raiders were losing… which was not infrequent. Ann and Josh shared a love of horse racing, inherited from Sziga, so much so that many years before Ann became a grandmother to baby Lara, Josh arranged to be part of a horse syndicate as a present for Ann’s birthday – called “Ann’s finally got a grandchild”.

They say that becoming a grandparent is the gift for surviving parenthood.

And boy did Josh and Ben make parenthood an interesting, unforgettable experience for Ann and Ian.

While they would often say how different they were from one another, Ben and Josh were in many ways the same.

Their love for their family, generosity towards their friends, contribution to their community, disregard for the speed limits, willingness to wake up at any hour to catch a good sporting match, and ability to bring colour and joy into every moment, is something they will always share.

And Ben’s relationship with Josh only grew stronger and closer in recent years.

As Ben has said this week, “I will never thank Lia enough for the pure joy she has brought my brother over the past four or so years, and for bringing Josh and me closer than ever before. Only a month or so ago, Josh was in tears, a bubbling emotional mess, when Mel and I Facetimed Josh and Lia to tell them that later this year, we would be welcoming into the world a little cousin, now three-weeks old Lara. While Josh and I certainly have ridiculous “brotherly” stories, Josh was the very best brother”.

14 years ago, Mel was first introduced to the Levi family at the age of 16. Josh became not only a brother-in-law to Mel, but was more like a brother – like her own brother, also named Josh. Josh would be the first to laugh with Mel when she told a funny story (although, he advised her not to always preface it with, “I’ve got the funniest story…”), would hug her tight when life threw her a curve ball, and would cry with her when she cried.

But perhaps Josh’s ultimate act of love was one day letting Mel take a piece of his schnitzel right off his plate. Josh loved Mel’s extended family, and he and Lia embraced them with open arms and open hearts – and for this, Mel will be forever grateful.

In June 2019, Josh and Lia, Ben and Mel and Ian and Ann took a family vacation to Queenstown in New Zealand, to celebrate Ian’s retirement from Deloittes.

Now, Queenstown is known for its adventure sports, with many going there for bungy jumping, heliskiing, and more.

But these people aren’t Levis… The Levis spent days just being together – playing Catan (with Josh the self-crowned “King”), watching movies, sharing meals, cooking (don’t worry, that was Lia, not Mel…) but most of all, just laughing. It was reminiscent of Ben and Josh’s childhood, spent with family and the rest of the Sydney Hungarian Jewish community in Thredbo… No, not skiing… Instead, playing cricket, tobogganing, riding the chairlift, and driving around the mountains… in summer.

These trips are some of the most beautiful times spent together as a family, and Ian, Ann, Ben, Mel and Lia will forever cherish the memories made there. There will be an unfillable, Josh-sized hole at our Shabbas table, and in our hearts.

In late 2014, Josh first moved to Melbourne, and as it would turn out, this would be perhaps the single best decision of his life.

Little did he know it at the time, but it led him to the love of his life – his wife, Lia. Josh’s family and friends have all said that this would begin the happiest years of Josh’s life.

He adored Lia – his soul mate, who brought so much love, light and laughter into his life.

Lia was an exceptional wife and life partner to Josh.

Her love for him was limitless – so much so, that she allowed Josh to wear a Canberra Raiders-inspired green jacket to their wedding and walk down the aisle to an acoustic version of their team song, “The Green Machine”.

Appreciating the inadequacy of words, Lia would simply describe Josh as being “just the best” and said that he would truly do anything for her.

In Lia, Josh found his true equal, his “person”.

They challenged each other, knew when to hold their ground, when to compromise, and pushed each other to become the very best versions of themselves.

The award-winning Joshua Levi

When Lia surprised Josh with a gender reveal video last year, she left no stone unturned and got none other than the Canberra Raiders captain, Jared Croker, and his teammates to proudly announce that they were expecting a little girl!

The light that Lia brought into Josh’s life only grew brighter three weeks ago, when they welcomed baby Lara into the world.

Perhaps Josh’s favourite role in life was that of “father”.

Josh was beaming and revelled in all of the joy and magic that Lara brought to him and Lia, as parents; saying “this is the best. I’m just so happy”.

Lia would always say how devoted and supportive Josh was as a husband, and especially in the past few weeks, as he became the proud and besotted father of his “little lady”, Lara. Where most men would try to avoid the 2am feeds or nappy changes, Josh relished this precious time with his daughter.

In marrying Lia, not only did Josh and the Levi family receive the gift of a new daughter and sister, but they also got to welcome Lia’s family.

Lia’s father Jacob, sister Rachel, brother-in-law Craig, nephew Noah, niece Lola, brother Simon, sister-in-law Alina, and nephew Levi have been and will continue to be a much loved and valued part of the extended Levi family.

Lia’s beautiful mother, Valerie, sadly passed away three weeks ago.

Whenever Josh was in Melbourne for a work trip, he would always make the time to drop into Valerie’s place and surprise her with her favourite Japanese meal; knowing that she would never ask.

In Valerie’s last few weeks, Josh would take her breakfast every morning, and took her for walks around the hospital ward, so that she could stretch her legs. Again, Valerie never had to ask.

Valerie’s love, courage, and resilience live on through Lia, her siblings and for Lia, through baby Lara – whose middle names Olive and Vali were both inspired by Valerie. Well, at least in part…

When Josh and Lia told Valerie that they were thinking of the name Olive, Valerie told them that she loved the name, and that it was similar to her maiden name of D’Olivera. When Lia also pointed out that olive is indeed a shade of green, and was inspired by the Canberra Raiders, Valerie rolled her eyes and smiled at Josh.

These past few weeks and months have been tremendously hard for Lia and her family; however, they have shown their unwavering love for one another through their loyalty, devotion, and unity.

One significant note is that Simon and Alina recently named their newborn son Levi – which just goes to show, every family needs a Levi!

Josh also enjoyed special relationships with each of his four grandparents. With Sziga, he would argue, watch the horses, and venture out to the casino. With Agi, he’d play cards, watch her ladle copious amounts of oil out of the Shabbas chicken paprika, and embodied her same attributes of never complaining, always smiling, and pursuing life with unbridled determination. With Sol, affectionately known as Pa, he’d humour him with feigned interest in learning about Australia’s train routes, the nuances of sewerage systems around the globe, and enjoyed regular trips to their favourite Chinese restaurant, Bambusia, where Pa was so familiar with the menu, that he’d print off a list of his selections prior to visiting.

With Grandma Sylvia, or G’ma, where do we begin? As a young boy, when Josh decided that his parents’ rule was somehow unfair, he’d escape to G’ma’s house for some much needed TLC. Josh and G’ma shared a truly unique and special bond. He confided in her like a most trusted best friend, called her several times each week, helped her to publish books, and always had her in the front of his mind, and heart.

One of the greatest joys in Josh’s life was his big, extended Levi family.

In many ways, Josh was the heart and soul of the family, always bringing fun, joy, and laughter to every family event. He had this unique, Josh-like way of making every single person feel special and loved. The Levi family – his uncles and aunts – Kerry, Evelyn & Iggy, Vivi & David, Mark & Rozanne, Vicky, and Teddy & Lisa – will miss him terribly.

On the Levi side, Josh was one of 13 first cousins and their respective spouses – (Jessica, Nathan & Karene, Rochelle, Ben & Mel, Amy & Gaby, Ilana & Avi, Ron & Tess, Michael & Sharron, Danielle, Tom & Bella, Kimberley & Jonathan, and Ashley). Every weekend, the Levi clan of grandchildren would meet at G’ma’s house on a Saturday afternoon, with plenty of laughs and some tears, as all the kids played cricket in the yard, rode bikes, and played on Pa’s boat. True to form, Josh was never lost in the crowd. You could always find Josh instigating trouble, which would invariably create belly laughs around the table.

As you can imagine, having so many people at one of G’ma’s famous Rosh Hashanah lunches would lead to quite a queue at the buffet… Well, Josh used his ingenuity to convince different cousins to be waiters, and would sit comfortably, as he waited patiently for his food to be served. The request was always: chicken schnitzel, extra lemon wedges, and replacing G’ma’s short drinking glasses for tall ones – with ice. Josh loved sharing the Jewish holidays with his family, including, as kids, G’ma’s annual Channukah party. Each year, G’ma would gift every one of her grandchildren a book, until Josh finally said “G’ma, I don’t read… save it for someone else”. The irony that in the years to come, Josh would be CEO of a newspaper…

Just as Josh was always there for his family during times of celebration and joy, so too was he there during times of hardship; none more-so than when we lost Josh’s youngest cousin, Ashley, at 19 years of age. The two most gregarious members of the Levi family, with the biggest smiles, biggest earlobes, and even bigger hearts. Josh, we pray that you and Ash are sitting together now, having a drink, and conspiring to cause plenty of chaos up there.

While Josh certainly looked like a Levi, he had the heart of a Kraus. And the Kraus House had his heart. His Uncle Les, Aunty Betty, and cousins Shmoo and Dinah (with their 5 daughters, Gila, Honey, Liat, Rachellie, and Tifferet), Chana and Valerie, Malka and Shmuly (with their son JJ, and a bub on the way), and Pnina and Eli. To Josh, the Kraus House weren’t just his family, they were some of his closest friends. You could always hear Josh and Betty passionately debating issues of religion and the Middle East; Josh and Les shouting at the TV while watching a Manly Sea Eagles game; and the many adventures with his cousins around Israel – including the famous Channukah Doughnut Contest, where Josh reviewed and rated the best sufganiyot that Israel had to offer.

In Sydney, the Kraus House lives on through Great Aunt Berczi, Uncle Peter, and cousins Dominique & Chris, and Lauren & Alex.

Whether Josh was living in Sydney or Melbourne, he was always surrounded by people who loved him most dearly. In Melbourne, Josh was fortunate to have Mary Keller as his surrogate mother, ensuring that he was well looked after, well behaved, and as every Jewish mother does, well fed.

Josh’s zest for life ensured that wherever he was, whoever he was with, it felt like home. And this was especially true when he was with Michael and Karen Green – Viv Levi’s brother and sister-in-law – who took Josh in as the fourth child in their home, and at their Shabbas table, whenever he was in Melbourne.

When you think of someone who embodies the true meaning of the word “friend”, you invariably think of Josh. A more loyal, selfless, devoted, compassionate, and loving friend you will never find. Josh was the ultimate “mate”, and a mate for life. Just ask his Sydney “boys” – Jake, Perry, Zinny, Hoffy, Noah, Shaun, Hedges, Rich, Kiva, Lemish, and Schwarz. Josh was the King of Catan, a darts devotee, a talented ten-pin bowler, and the ultimate socialite… The boys were reminiscing about how many times people would approach Josh while they were out, and start conversations about a particular article or community matter. Josh would treat them like an old mate, and once they had shaken hands and parted ways, we’d ask him who it was. Josh would say, “I have no idea…” but they knew differently. Josh’s boys said that he’d be so moved to see everyone who is here today to pay tribute to his remarkable life, except he probably doesn’t know who a good few of you are…

And if lifelong friends in one city wasn’t enough of a testament to Josh, he also had his Melbourne “girls”… Amy, Haybloom, Chucky, Jess, Reg, Loz, Esther… as well as Ari, Adi, Adrian and Darren. There was nothing that Josh wouldn’t do for his friends, and clearly they felt the same way; with one friend, Ari, finding a local park with a sign saying “J B Levi Reserve”, covered in graffiti. He contacted the local council to request their attention to the disgraceful state of the reserve, explaining that Josh was in fact J B Levi’s long lost grandson, and was deeply upset about such dishonour to his family. As Ari wrote, “J B was a great man, avid darter, lover of animals, dog and horses in particular…”; and queried whether the reserve could be renamed to Josh Levi Park? While he wasn’t successful in having the reserve renamed, he at least got the graffiti cleaned off the sign.

Josh… Lia, together with Ann & Ian, Ben & Mel, Jacob, Rachel, Craig, Simon & Alina, and all of your extended family and friends, will make sure that Lara grows up to know just how much her Daddy loved her, how much everyone loved her Daddy, and how big your dreams were for her and her life.

Josh, you were larger than life. You lived, and gave, more in your 36 years, than most people do in a lifetime. You are the embodiment of what it means to be a true mensch, and you will leave a gaping hole in the hearts of your family, your friends, and your community. Lia, Ian, Ann, Ben, and Mel and your entire extended Levi, Kraus and Shentzer families are shattered and will forever love you and forever miss you.

Josh Levi:  

Born: Sydney, October 2, 1983 

Died: Melbourne, February 3, 2020

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