Dr. Barry S. Lever, a retired periodontist known for his passion for the story of the Exodus 1947, the Chesapeake Bay freight passenger ship forever linked to the founding of Israel, died on Feb. 24.
A Pikesville resident and Chizuk Amuno congregant, he was 84.
Lever, a native of Harrisburg, Pa., was the son of Samuel and Doris (Hankin) Lever. He received his bachelor of science and doctor of dental surgery degrees from the University of Pittsburgh in 1958. He served as a postdoctoral fellow with the U.S. Public Health Service and received certificates in periodontics from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Boston University Graduate School of Medicine.
Lever served as a dental officer in the U.S. Naval Reserves. He and his family moved to Baltimore in 1963, and he ran a private practice here until 1997.
Besides his longtime periodontics practice, Lever taught at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry for more than three decades. He was also an artist, and spoke publicly about the legacy of the Exodus 1947 throughout the community.
One of his most recent artworks, “A Sacred Timeshare on the Blue Marble,” was on display in the gallery at the Edward A. Myerberg Center in Northwest Baltimore. It was inspired by the “Earth Rise” and “Blue Marble” photographs taken from space by Apollo astronauts.
In 1995, Lever spearheaded a community-wide commemoration of the journey of the Baltimore-launched Exodus 1947 – originally known as the S.S. President Warfield — that resulted in the creation of a tapestry, ship model, the issuance of a commemorative stamp and the dedication of a memorial plaque in front of Baltimore’s World Trade Center.
Lever also served as the World Zionist Organization’s volunteer chairman of the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Final Voyage of the President Warfield/Exodus 1947. From 2002 to 2013, he served as the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s special projects consultant.
Lever is survived by his wife of 63 years, Sandee; his children, Dr. Scott Lever (Shelley Hendler), Dr. Beth (Brett) Gold and Jonathan (Laura) Lever; his sister, Phyllis (Dr. Lenny) Horwitz; his grandchildren, Arielle Lever (Andrew Eisen), Sara, Ian, Sam, Sophie and Caroline Lever; and his sister-in-law of Bonny (David) Walker. Also survived by nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.
Services will be held Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road, at Mount Wilson Lane, on Feb. 26, at 3 p.m. Interment will be at Arlington Cemetery-Chizuk Amuno Congregation, N. Rogers Ave.
Contributions in Lever’s memory may be sent to CO/LAB Theater Group, P.O. Box 727, New York, N.Y. 10108, or any other charity.
In mourning at 3206 Woodvalley Drive, Baltimore, through Monday, March 4, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., with services at 7 each evening.
Barry and Sandee Lever were profiled in a Feb. 2017 Jmore article titled “Five Couples Who Found their Soulmates.” See video from that feature here:
The following is a Nov. 2017 column about Lever written by Jmore contributor Rafael Alvarez:
Barry Lever’s bar mitzvah speech was about the Exodus 1947, the old Chesapeake Bay freight passenger ship forever linked to the founding of Israel, a state that did not exist on the Saturday morning he was welcomed into Jewish manhood.
Afterward, in the album in which he collected blessings and good wishes from friends and family, the 13-year-old Lever wrote: “… The congregation offered special prayers for the partition of Palestine. At 4 p.m., the U.N. took a vote at Lake Success [N.Y.] and at 4:15 the plan went through …
“It was the best thing,” Lever wrote seven decades ago this month, “in 2,000 years.”
Many agreed it was a sacred moment. Many disagreed, some philosophically, others violently. That conflict continues to this day.
But Lever and the banged-up American coastal freighter acquired in secrecy by the paramilitary group Haganah to save Jewish lives sailed into the future together.
“This is not another dry history lesson. Now, it’s about the future,” says Lever, now 82 and a retired periodontist. “The ship has further voyaging to do. Its message is optimism about the dream of peace.”
Raised above a grocery store in Harrisburg, Pa., Lever now lives near Greenspring Avenue with his wife, Sandee, whom he has known since they were 5. The couple traveled to the port of Haifa earlier this year to attend the dedication of a sculpture marking the 70th anniversary of the voyage of 4,515 European Jewish refugees seeking safe harbor and home.
A Baltimore memorial was placed at the World Trade Center at the Inner Harbor, the same area that the ship — originally known as the packet steamer the President Warfield — left for night cruises to Norfolk, Va., in the 1930s.
In July of 1947 near the Palestinian coast, the Exodus was rammed by British warships, and one of its crew and two passengers were killed when the British Royal Navy boarded. All others were transferred to prison ships bound for Europe. After the French refused to forcibly remove the refugees, they were forced ashore in Germany.
Publicity of the incident is credited with persuading the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine to support partition. Thus, the Exodus — a Patapsco River relic destined for the scrap yard — is now known as “The Ship that Launched a Nation.”
Fascinating stuff. But just a scratchy newsreel to Lever, who loves the ship that caught fire, sank, was refloated and sank again, with its hull on the bottom near the Kishon River (“the river of slaughter”) outside of Haifa.
Lever is a dreamer, one who believes mankind is on the path to a better place than where we stand now. The Exodus — the very image of it, not unlike the “blue marble” of Earth seen from space — might help us get there, he believes.
“I think this ship could become as important as the pictures of Earth we’ve seen from space,” says Lever, a former Jewish Museum of Maryland volunteer who donated his collection of Exodus memorabilia to the East Baltimore museum. There resides a 50th anniversary “peace tapestry” of the ship made by many hands weaving more than 1.5 million stitches.
Lever’s idea? A time-share between all faiths in the Holy Land, assigned times for each and every faith to pray at the summit of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which he calls “the navel of the world.”
“The symbol of the ship is sailing toward a peace that never seems to arrive,” says Lever. “To get there, we need a new vision to break the stalemate of all these years. I believe that if everyone was assigned a time to pray on the Temple Mount as they pleased — a ‘sacred time-share’ on a place that belongs to God alone — we’d be well on our way.”
Lever knows it’s but a dream conceived by a retired dentist in Pikesville, and though he’s no fan of John Lennon (“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”) he takes heart from the words of another writer, Theodor Herzl: “If you will it, it is no dream.”
Rafael Alvarez is the author of “Basilio Boullosa Stars in the Fountain of Highlandtown.” He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.