Name: Linda Levy
Occupation: Immigration attorney
Avocation: Hula dancer
J.: Where are you from originally?
Linda Levy: I grew up in Mount Vernon, N.Y., in a four-generation Jewish home. My great-grandfather had been a rabbi in Montreal, and he lived with us for the last four or five years of his life. So it was him, my grandparents, my parents, myself and my siblings. I’m the oldest of five. Judaism was very important in our lives, in our community. Then when I was 13 we moved to Seattle by car. And all of a sudden I was the only Jewish student in Bellevue High School. So that was difficult.
J.: You graduated from Stanford in 1961, and in the ’70s you ended up in Hawaii. How?
LL: My first husband and I divorced after 12 years, and I decided to go to law school. But right before I started Hastings, I took a trip to Hawaii with three other young women and just fell in love with it. I met some people who took me sailing, and as we were sailing into Hanalei Bay, there was a school of dolphins alongside us. I just knew it was a good place, and I made very good friends there.
I went back to Hastings, but then soon after, I took a leave of absence, and my sons and I went to live at Taylor Camp, which was a kind of a hippie community on Kauai. I worked as an administrative aide to a very progressive woman who was on the city council and who then became mayor.
J.: And that’s when you discovered hula?
LL: Yes. I started dancing with a halau [hula school] there — unlike many, they accepted haoles, outsiders. I danced with them for many years. People probably don’t realize how complex hula is. It’s not just a fun exercise; it’s a serious spiritual experience. There are a lot of double and triple meanings in the words — just like in the Talmud! — and there are many different styles depending on the school. In our school, we don’t stand on our toes and we don’t point our fingers, for example.
Much to my great fortune, not long after I moved back here, one of the very advanced students from my halau in Hawaii moved to Marin and was given permission to teach our dances. So I’ve been dancing with that group for seven years now. Recently we performed in Hawaii, a series called “Recalling Hawaii,” about the history of the island.
J.: Why did you decide to move back to the Bay Area?
LL: Two main reasons: the schools and the Jewish community. We did make some Jewish friends while in Hawaii. We flew to Honolulu every year for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and for Passover we had a community seder on Kauai with over 100 people, including tourists, and people you’d never know were Jewish.
Eventually a friend [the daughter of a Holocaust survivor] and I started a Hebrew school because we both had young children. We met in our homes, gave the kids what we could. But I felt the lack of a Jewish world there very deeply, especially with my upbringing. When we moved back we joined Congregation Beth Israel [in Berkeley].
J.: You work as an immigration attorney here. But you and your second husband, whom you met in Hawaii 22 years ago, are considering a move to Israel?
LL: Yes, I love the work that I do. It can be frustrating, but so rewarding helping families with perfecting their immigration status, or making things official after a marriage. I’m hoping to keep doing some of that work when we move to Israel for at least a year or two … we are considering making aliyah.
J.: Can you compare Hawaiian culture to Judaism? To Israeli culture?
LL: Family and genealogy are so central to both; there’s always this looking backward. But then you have the contrast: Hawaiians are very laid-back, the pace is slower. For Israelis, that’s not the case. (Laughs) But they’re both very important to me, and it’s very interesting to be part of them both.
The last time I was in Israel I mentioned “hula,” and someone said “Oh, you mean like a hula hoop?” So there’s a lot of education that needs to be done there. It would be great to go to Israel and bring some of the Hawaiiana with me.