Linda Levi

On her sense of peoplehood and three decades at JDC as a Jewish professional leader

Linda Levi MA'72Linda Levi, MA’72

"I had two dreams when I completed the Hornstein Program,” recalls Linda Levi MA’72, assistant executive vice president for global archives for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). “One was to work for ‘the Joint,’ and the other was to make aliyah to Israel.” She's done both.

After completing her degree at Hornstein, Linda made aliyah and took work at JDC-Eshel, a partnership between the Joint and the Israeli government that plans and develops services for elderly Israelis.

A first-generation American Jewish child of European immigrant parents, Linda was raised to feel a powerful connection to Israel and her extended family around the world. “Israel has always been important in my life and I've always had a feeling of responsibility for my fellow Jews.”

This sense of connection and commitment to World Jewry found an outlet at the Joint. “The Joint is the organization that demonstrates this commitment to Jewish Peoplehood in its day-to-day work,” she says. “It does this in very meaningful ways and in such immediate ways.”

When she returned to the U.S. from Israel, she waited for a position to open up at JDC's headquarters. In the three decades that she's been working there, much of her work has involved organizational strategy planning, programmatic planning and decision-making as assistant executive vice president for program planning and budget.

Her position now as assistant executive vice president of global archives allows her to remember and review a century of JDC's work in support of World Jewry and her own involvement these past 30 years.

“There's been so much I witnessed,” Linda exclaims. “For example, I was with the Joint during the time of Glasnost and the fall of the Iron Curtain. In Hungary, even before the end of the fall of the Iron Curtain, we participated in efforts to rebuild Jewish life in Eastern Europe. And in Ethiopia, I was involved in JDC's efforts to assist Ethiopian Jewry.

Linda's work has allowed her to get to know many Jewish communities around the world, to witness evolution in those communities and here at home.

“We're a different community now than we were 20, 50 or 70 years ago. People then experienced and remembered the establishment of the State of Israel or the Holocaust when the refugees were fleeing, the survivors were arriving. They remembered the feeling of powerlessness when this awful war was unfolding and were desperate to know what could be done about it. Those were visceral reactions of people who cared and knew that something needed to be done and stepped up to do it,” she says.

Today Linda wonders if American Jews will continue to provide resources to help less fortunate brethren. “A few decades ago I think we were more willing to give whatever we could to help in those particular crises. But in the post-modern world, how are we going to generate and encourage that kind of caring and that kind of action?”

Linda isn't sure. Hindsight may provide an answer. In the meantime, if there are vulnerable Jews in need around the world she will be there with JDC to help.

In Her Own Words: An Interview with Linda Levi

This interview with Linda was published in the Hornstein Program's Impact Newsletter, March 2016. If you would like to quote any part of this conversation, please attribute content to the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University and link to this page. All rights reserved.

“I think that one of the greatest challenges facing World Jewry today is the whole question of what binds us together as a Jewish People...   We don't want to be defined only by the external threats of antisemitism, or the issues of Islamic fundamentalism, or BDS that are external threats and challenges for the Jewish community.”

Linda Levi, MA’72