Dr. Bernard S. Levy

October 24, 1936December 3, 2021
Obituary of Dr. Bernard S. Levy
Bernard Saul Levy of Newton, MA entered into rest on December 3, 2021 at the age of 85. Beloved husband of the late Janice (Cohen) Levy. Devoted father of Ed Levy and his wife Julie Tishler, Dan Levy and his wife Sara Cosgrove, and Sarah Levy and her husband Eugene Langner. Cherished grandfather of Jonah and Ezra, Annabel and Noah, and Sam and Josh. Despite facing adversities, including his father’s murder in a robbery attempt, losing his beloved Janice prematurely to cancer, and a sixty-eight year battle with Crohn’s Disease, Bernie thought he was the luckiest man alive. Bernie was born in Baltimore to Roger, who owned a modest shoe store, and Anna, a homemaker. His upraising in the Orthodox Jewish community, helping in his father’s store, and Boy Scouts shaped him for life, developing leadership skills and giving him the ability to find a way to connect with every person he met. Bernie came to Boston to start MIT at age 16. He found brilliant minds but chafed at MIT’s role in the military industrial complex and was deeply troubled by the hate preached on the Boston Common by Father Feeney. These challenges led him to find lifelong passions- his love of science, sailing, and his devotion to MIT Hillel. The “new” chapel at MIT opened while he was a student, and he considered it one of the great honors of his life that he was chosen to carry the Torah to its new ark. He attended medical school and did an internship in medicine at Duke University. He loved caring for patients and practiced until shortly before his death. He did a residency in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, seeking out that program specifically because of his interest in the biologic basis of psychiatric illness rather than the prevailing views which focused on Freudian psychoanalysis. At Hopkins, a young pediatrician, Janice Cohen, caught his eye. He would spend time with the switchboard operator in order to hear Janice call in to sign out each night. Before long, they married and lived their lives as soulmates and true partners. Jan was able to enjoy a full career as a physician long before the women’s movement because she had Bernie’s fully support of her career. While in the Public Health Service, he authored the first scientific paper in the United States on the use of lithium to treat bipolar illness. He was recruited to the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in 1968 to lead the inpatient psychiatry unit into the new era of a biologic basis of mental illness. But Bernie thought psychopharmacology was inadequate by itself as a treatment and focused on combining psychotherapy as well as therapeutic community where the patient was offered autonomy and respect and a role in their treatment. He next turned to working with doctors who had difficulties- often psychiatric illness or substance use disorder- that compromised their ability to practice. He set up the Physician Health Services Program at the Massachusetts Medical Society and charted a course that protected patient safety while also offering physicians rehabilitation. He relied in equal measures on scientific evidence-based measures and heart. That work saved lives of patients and physicians alike and became a national model. Bernie was an independent and critical thinker. Just one example of the difference that made is that one time, when a lab result for a patient did not make sense to him, he walked the sample to a neighboring hospital for a second analysis which made a life saving diagnosis of rare form of meningitis. This happened in the ‘60s and one of his professors told him that he wasn’t sure whether it was more remarkable that a man had been launched into orbit that week or that Bernie had walked that sample up the hill to save the patient. Bernie loved learning and filled his home with thousands of books on history, religion, science, politics, plays, poetry, and fiction. He was far more interested in discussing ideas than things. He was the first to adopt new technology, to the point you sometimes had to ask him how to turn on the lights in his house. He also filled his home with good food and would offer large quantities, especially meat, several times before accepting a refusal. He could not believe his luck to have a home on Martha’s Vineyard and loved his community there. He loved sailing and teaching his own and other children how to sail. Bernie faced adversities himself and witnessed some of the worst suffering imaginable but remained stunningly positive and optimistic. He saw clearly the evil in the world, but made a choice to believe in redemption and hope. He searched out the good in every person and the humanity in every situation and then worked to try to help people rise to their best selves. He believed he had a responsibility to help wherever and whenever he could but also took joy in doing so. Many people received an unexpected call, a check, or food, just because he knew it would help. Bernie’s greatest joy was his family. He made sure to be home for dinner every night no matter what. After they were grown and had families of their own, he spoke to each of his children every day, often more than once. His greatest joy in recent years was his grandchildren. When he learned he would be welcoming three grandchildren in eleven months, he went out and bought a minivan that he called the Bernie bus. He found different ways to connect with each of his six grandchildren, cultivating their particular interests. As his grandchildren got older, he found out what they were studying in school and would read up and even buy copies of their textbooks so he could discuss their ideas with them. Just as important, he kept a drawer full of candy and cookies at the ready for them. Bernie lived each day from a place of gratitude. He loved his life and the people in it. The hole he leaves is enormous, but so too, is the blessing his life is to all of us. Funeral Services will be held on Monday, December 6 at 10:30 AM at Stanetsky Chapel, 1668 Beacon Street, Brookline and via livestream at: In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Benevolent Society of the Massachusetts Medical Society and/or search out opportunities each day for unexpected acts of kindness or generosity. Shiva visiting hours will take place as follows: Those who are vaccinated are invited to visit the family in person at three different times. The family requests that everyone wear a mask, whether visiting outdoors or indoors. Monday and Tuesday, December 6 and 7 between 3 and 5pm: on the outdoor porch at the home where Bernie and Janice raised their family, 17 Berwick Road in Newton Centre. People are encouraged to dress comfortably and warmly. Thursday, December 9 between 7 and 9pm indoors at Ed and Julie's house, 18 Bowdoin St. in Newton Highlands. The Ma'ariv (evening) services will take place there at 7:30 pm. (no zoom option) Temple Hillel B’nai Torah will host a Zoom shiva Wednesday, December 8 between 7 and 9pm. Visitors may gather on zoom to share stories and offer condolences. The Ma'ariv (evening) service will take place between 7:30 and 8. Meeting ID: 815 1270 5480 Passcode: 514310 One tap mobile +13126266799,,81512705480# Yehi zichrono baruch--May Dr. Bernard Levy be remembered for blessing. Hamakom yenachem etchem--May the Source of comfort bring comfort to all who are mourning Bernie Levy.

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Monday, December 06, 2021

Funeral Service