Mrs. Thelma Levy, a feisty and spirited woman known for her wit and her steadfast commitment to her religion and connection with the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—as well as the stalwart force behind her husband, Rabbi Berel Levy, who grew OK Kosher Supervision into an internationally leader in the kosher industry, passed away on March 18. She was 95 years old.

Thelma was born in 1924 to Yitzchak and Sarah Horowitz, who emigrated from Galicia to the United States, eventually settling in the Bronx, N.Y. Their home was a warm one and a devoutly religious space—a rarity in America for those times—and the young Thelma, speaking only Yiddish as she did, essentially grew up as a native of the “Old Country”—a badge she wore proudly her whole life.

Trained as a bookkeeper, Thelma entered the workforce at a young age. During this time, through a mutual friend, she was introduced to her husband, Rabbi Berel Levy. The two were wed in late 1944.

Shortly afterwards, the young Berel Levy introduced his new bride to Chabad-Lubavitch. To begin, as was customary with newly minted couples, they traveled together to the Sixth Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn—for a private audience. And it was then that she discovered her ultimate path in life: After speaking with Berel about his ambitions in Jewish education, the Rebbe turned to her and asked her if she, too, would be teaching. While the question was a complete shock, she didn’t think twice, and Thelma Levy the bookkeeper immediately responded “yes!” instantly transforming into Thelma Levy the teacher.

It was this sense of commitment and readiness that carried through her entire life. “She was a very strong woman, very clear in what she believed, and fiercely devoted to the Rebbe; whatever the Rebbe said was iron,” said her grandson, Rabbi Yitzchak Hanoka, who works in the family organization, OK Kosher.

Levy stood by her husband’s side throughout his many varied activities. Of note were their daring trips to the Soviet Union, journeys made at the Rebbe’s request to help the oppressed Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain. The difficulties of engaging in any sort of religious activity in the USSR are well-documented, and more than once, Thelma was compelled to utilize her wit and creativity to shake off the authorities and faithfully carry out her mission—at one point turning the tables on a KGB officer that had questioned her too much and threatening him with diplomatic retribution from the U.S. government.

Never one to complain, Thelma endured the tremendous loss of her husband’s premature passing in the spring of 1987. She also tragically lost a son, Eliezer Yitzchak.

“She had a hard life, losing her husband and then a son, yet she was always grateful and dignified,” said Hanoka. “She would show deep appreciation to anyone who visited her, and she was always happy to hear a word of Torah.”

Thelma is survived by her daughter, Fruma Gartenhaus; in addition to grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Her son, Rabbi Don Yoel Levy, passed away on April 16, just weeks after she did, after he succumbed to the coronavirus. She was also predeceased by her husband, Rabbi Berel Levy, and her son, Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak Levy.

Mrs. Levy with her son, Rabbi Don Yoel Levy, who passed away just a few weeks after she did, on April 16, due to COVID-19.
Mrs. Levy with her son, Rabbi Don Yoel Levy, who passed away just a few weeks after she did, on April 16, due to COVID-19.