Rabbi Kalman Levine, born Cary Levine in Kansas City, Mo. on June 30, 1959, was murdered morning at Kehillat Bnei Torah synagogue in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem while in the middle of the daily morning prayer service. He leaves behind a wife, Chaya, who’s from Cleveland, and 10 children and five grandchildren.
A best friend from childhood is Shimon Kraft, who lives in Los Angeles and owns The Mitzvah Store; Kraft is also Kalman’s former brother-in-law from Kraft’s previous marriage. Kraft spoke about their lives growing up and how Levine, who was not raised Orthodox, was transformed when he spent six months at a kibbutz after high school.
Kraft described Levine as an exceedingly humble person, and while he was a serious learner devoted to increasing his knowledge of Judaism and Torah, he also had a sharp sense of humor and loved to joke around. Growing up in Kansas City, Kraft and Levine loved to watch the Kansas City Royals baseball team.
“We lived at Royals Stadium in the summer,” Kraft said. “We used to trade baseball cards.”
After Levine graduated Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in the late ’70s and returned to the United States after six months on a kibbutz, he moved to Los Angeles to enroll at a pre-dental program at the University of Southern California (USC). Although Levine grew up Conservative in Kansas City, Kraft said Levine’s time in Israel led to a religious transformation, and Levine became Sabbath and kosher observant.
While Levine was at USC, Kraft said he visited in him in summer 1977. Levine, after he came to Los Angeles, became very close with Rabbi Zvi Block, who taught at Aish HaTorah in North Hollywood, and Levine’s inspiration from learning Torah with Block helped solidify his religious transformation that began in Israel.
Levine and Kraft decided to travel to Israel together and they attended two years of yeshiva before they returned to Los Angeles to attend a post-high school study program at Yeshiva University Los Angeles (YULA).
Kraft said that Levine decided to return to Israel again in the early 1980s—this time he never left. Over the years in Jerusalem, Levine built a family and continued pursuing the passion of his life—Torah. Kraft said Levine even organized a group of men who would get together for the sole purpose of self-improvement and strengthening character traits.
“He was truly great,” Kraft said. “He was so unusual, so special.”
night in Los Angeles, as Kraft was going to bed, he heard about the attack in Har Nof, but didn’t think more of it. morning though, Kraft’s son called from Baltimore and told him the news—his best friend had been murdered.
“He died in the beit midrash [synagogue], which is where he lived his whole life,” Kraft said. "It’s where he lived and died."