“Our Talmudic scholar in Israel”—that’s how Bernie and Joan Levine of Kansas City referred to their son, according to friend and neighbor Rabbi Yitzchak “Itche” Itkin, co-director of Chabad on the Plaza in Missouri.

The Levines’ son, Rabbi Kalman Ze’ev Levine, 55, was murdered on Tuesday morning along with three other worshippers while attending morning prayers at the Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof.

Also killed in terrorist attack were rabbis Moshe Twersky, 59, and Aryeh Kupinsky, 43, both of whom were born in the United States; and Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, 68, originally from Britain. An Israeli police officer, Zidan Sayif, 27, of the Druze village of Yanuch-Jat in the Galilee, was one of the first to arrive at the scene. Wounded in the attack, he later died at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

Levine, who also went by his English name Cary William, was born and raised in Kansas City, Mo., along with his sisters Shelley and Stephanie. As a child, he attended and graduated from Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Overland Park, Kan., a suburb outside of Kansas City, Mo. As an adult, he visited Israel on a study program and ended up moving there in the early 1980s. In Israel, Levine married, fathered nine children and became a grandfather of five.

“He was quite a smart person who early on fell in love with Israel while he was on a trip and ended up staying there,” says Itkin. “He was wonderful person who loved to spend time in shul, loved to daven [pray] and loved to learn.”

The Levines spoke to their son just a few days ago, Itkin relates, adding that they are “devastated and in shock.”

Rabbi Kalman Levine
Rabbi Kalman Levine

Much of Kansas City Jewry is also in shock, adds the rabbi, noting that many people know the Levine family. “What’s been remarkable is how the community is rallying around them,” he says. “It’s just a uniting factor bringing everyone together.”

A memorial gathering took place on Tuesday night at the Levine home.

While there’s no way to make sense or understand the tragedy, Itkin stresses that people should try to do something positive to “commemorate and perpetuate his memory. Hopefully, if we do that, the light [of the good deeds] will take away the darkness.”

‘Hard Time for Jews Everywhere’

In fact, various mitzvah campaigns have already been started in memory of Levine and the three other rabbis.

Among those organizing such an effort are students at the Chabad House at the University of Kansas, about 45 miles from Kansas City, Mo.

“On campus are hundreds of Jewish students, and everyone was shaken and wanted to do something about it,” explains Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, co-director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life at the University of Kansas. “We all felt that the way to do something about it is by channeling the fear and anger the students feel into positivity by taking all that energy and putting into increasing acts of kindness.”

One of the students’ ideas, says Tiechtel, is to honor the memories of those who were killed by encouraging as many people as possible to attend Friday-night services. “Since these Jewish men were killed while davening, maybe in their merit we can show our enemies that if you kill Jews while praying, we will pray even more.”

Additionally, the students are organizing a Facebook campaign called “What Can I Do? I Did a Mitzvah for Those Killed in Synagogue in Jerusalem.”

Melissa Berger, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Kansas who is active with Chabad, says that even though she doesn’t know the Levines personally, “it’s a hard time for Jews everywhere, especially in Kansas City, and the best way we can respond is in a way that does good. With the mitzvah campaign, we are inviting people from all over to do something good” to counter the horrible thing that happened.

Just a few hours after the campaign began, dozens of people had already pledged to do a mitzvah—to light Shabbat candles, donate money to charity or recite psalms. Those who made pledges came from Israel, Chicago, California, St. Louis, and numerous other cities, states and countries.

Tiechtel says he is moved by the students’ response: “This has awakened their neshamas [souls]. It really had an impact and touched them deeply.”