Sam Levine
Samuel Gale Levine: 11/1/1928 — 2/19/2005

Family: Wife, Pearl, and four children: Cynthia, Amy, Beth and and Kenny

A Harvard-educated chemistry professor who taught himself Hebrew, Sam was a beloved father, teacher and member of the Beth El community for more than 40 years.

Born the eldest son of Hyman Michael and Anna Levine, Sam grew up in Chelsea, Mass., and attended Tufts University near Boston as an undergraduate.

He went on to pursue a doctorate in organic chemistry at Harvard, studying under Robert B. Woodward, who would later win a Nobel Prize. While writing his dissertation, his friends arranged for him to go on a blind date with Pearl Halperin, a recent college graduate who double majored in biology & chemistry working as a lab technician at a Boston hospital. They attended a Pops concert at the open-air Esplanade and soon began dating.

They married a year later in June 1953. In August, they moved to Princeton where Sam worked as a post-doctoral student with a Nobel Prize-winning Dr. Edward C. Kendall.

The Korean War was in full swing, and Sam had received a deferral while writing his dissertation. But ultimately he was drafted and stationed at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. The couple’s first daughter, Cynthia Robin, was born in 1956 at Walter Reed.

Honorably discharged as a private first class, Sam took a job in a lab at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Philadelphia. There he worked alongside a researcher named Monroe Wall. When Wall was invited to start a chemistry research group at the newly formed Research Triangle Institute, he convinced Sam to join him.

The two families arrived in Durham in 1960. Jim Crow laws were still in force and Pearl noticed separate white and colored bathrooms at Raleigh Durham International Airport. For several years, the couple avoided going to the movies because the theaters were still segregated.

Still, the couple received a warm welcome at Beth El Synagogue and joined immediately.

Two years later they bought a house on the yet unpaved Ward Street where they would live the rest of their married lives. Here they reared three girls and a boy.

Amy Levine Webberman remembered her father as thoughtful, considerate and consistent. For example, as a girl, she said, she developed an interest in goldfish.

“He would make the time and go out and look at appropriate aquariums,” she said.

In the mid 1960s, Sam took a job as a chemistry professor at N.C. State University in Raleigh, where he soon gained a reputation as a respected and beloved teacher. (See attached letter.)

Although the Levines considered a move to Raleigh, they opted to stay in Durham, in part because of the close ties they formed with members of the Jewish community around Beth El.

Even before the Levines spent the 1971-72 academic year in Israel, where Sam was offered a sabbatical at the Weizmann Institute of Science, he began a project to study the Hebrew language and speak it like a Sabra.

To this end, he created thousands of index cards with Hebrew words on one side and English translations on the other.

“There was not a single day he didn’t study Hebrew,” his daughter, Amy, said. “Everything he did was careful, methodical and well thought out. He had a very precise style.”

Sam, who once considered becoming a rabbi, was especially close to Rabbi Steven G. Sager at Beth El. For decades, the two carried on a linguistic inquiry into modern Hebrew.

Sam died at 76, leaving behind his wife, four children and four grandchildren.