“Nomad from Baghdad: Meet BOLLI Member Ron Levy,” by Peter Bradley

Susan Posner, Sharon Sokoloff and Ron – 2008

Editor’s note: This article was compiled from the author’s recent interview with Ron Levy for the inaugural episode of the BOLLI Oral History Project (see additional information at the bottom of the page.) To listen to their recorded conversation, click HERE

When Ron Levy was just 7 years old, his family sent him on a journey from his home in Baghdad to join his father in England. That extraordinary adventure, at such a young age, is but one chapter in the story of a remarkable life.

Ron joined BOLLI in 2004, and in subsequent years led numerous study groups and became a longtime member of the BOLLI Advisory Council. The journey that led him here began with several family moves, academic success, and a long, successful business career in England, Canada, and the United States.

          Study Group Leader – 2014

Ron was born in Baghdad in 1938. Based on his own research and family stories, he believes the history of his father’s family in the Middle East dates to the time of the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem. His mother’s ancestry doesn’t date back quite as far, but is nonetheless compelling. Her Spanish roots date to the Inquisition, a time of anti-Jewish persecution that led her ancestors to move to Holland and eventually Baghdad. At the time Ron was born, Iraq was embracing a Nazi ideology and Jews faced increasing persecution and violence. Life there became untenable. “We essentially were facing a pogrom,” he says.  The family was forced to flee the city and move to Bombay in June 1941, where they lived for two and one-half years before returning to Baghdad in 1944. In mid-1945, his father moved to London to set up a business. Ron left to join him ahead of his mother and siblings due to an urgent need for surgery necessitated by a birth-related jaw injury that made eating difficult. He remembers that his circuitous, time-consuming trip included a forced landing in Malta, then a float plane through Marseilles, and an eventual arrival in southern England, where he was at last reunited with his father.  “I do remember being in Malta and an intermediate stop in Cairo,” he says. “I remember being looked after by the flight attendants and other adults.”

Avi Bernstein and Ron – 2014

In London, Ron lived outside the city with his aunt Rosa, his father’s sister. He recalls that his father would visit on weekends. His mother and three siblings finally joined them in London in August 1946. The family then purchased a house in Hampstead, though by then Ron had started to attend boarding school where he remained until the age of 18. He recalls enjoying much about those years, including rugby and school theater productions, but notes that there were some issues. At that time, the school limited Jews to ten percent of the student body. “There was some bullying, certainly anti-Semitism, which only in retrospect could I identify,” he says now. The anti-Semitism from faculty, he adds was more subtle but nonetheless real.

He worked for a time after finishing school, but soon enrolled in the University of London where he studied civil engineering. Following graduation, Ron worked in England for several years. With the encouragement of a Canadian cousin, he then moved to Montreal in 1965. At that time, Canada paid for the passage of engineers and others with needed skills in exchange for a promise to work in the country for at least two years. While in Canada he met his future wife, Sandi. He soon decided to shift his career track and applied to the Wharton School. Prior to enrollment, Ron and Sandi married and moved to Philadelphia. He earned his MBA in 1969.

“The job market then was very strong,” he says. He had several offers and decided to accept one from the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Arthur D. Little Company. At the time, he expected to spend a few years there before moving on, a standard practice among management consultants. He instead stayed with the company for 37 years until his retirement.

Tamara Chernow and Ron – 2014

Much of his work involved strategic consulting for manufacturers. “We were working anywhere from three to five client projects at a time,” he says. “And so, things were extremely interesting.” As he gained experience, he eventually began to lead client projects, which eventually led to extensive international travel. “I loved that travel,” he says. “It was difficult when you had a young family. But it was very satisfying, very gratifying to see different cultures and to work with businesses of different nationalities.” Arthur D. Little went bankrupt in 2002 and spun off parts of its business. Ron joined one of the successor firms, based in Burlington, and remained there until his 2006 retirement.

He began taking courses at BOLLI prior to retirement, and in 2006 was elected to the Advisory Council where he was immediately elected chair. “I was sort of thrown into the deep end,” he says. He served on the Council for two years. Not long thereafter he became a Study Group Leader and eventually led fifteen study groups, focused primarily on history and geopolitical subjects.

Ron later took on an added volunteer role when he joined the Brandeis National Committee, a major development organization for the University. He subsequently served on the group’s executive committee and as vice-president, and remains a member today. His work on the Committee led to his selection as a University Fellow, where his role is to “add strength to the University through generous gifts, enthusiastic ambassadorial activities in their communities, and counsel and expertise in many professional fields.” While no longer leading study groups, Ron remains active at both BOLLI and in the community. He recently served as both president of his Lexington Temple and as a trustee on two condo boards.

Ron and Family, Punta Cana 2019

Ron and his wife, Sandi, have two daughters, both of whom live in the Boston area. Following a career in social work Sandi became a yoga instructor, a practice she still continues part-time. They remain avid travelers. “My business and tourist travel has taken me to close to sixty countries,” he says. “I’ve missed it over the last couple of years due to Covid.” But they started again last September, taking a river cruise from Paris to Normandy. The journey continues for the boy from Baghdad, whose adventures began with a 1945 plane trip to England.

                              BOLLI Oral History Project

BOLLI members have extraordinary stories to tell—about their lives, their careers, their adventures. Our stories form part of the legacy each one of us has established over a lifetime and are worth preserving for both ourselves and our families.

To do just that, BOLLI has initiated the Oral History Project. The Project will endeavor to capture those stories through recorded interviews that can be shared with friends and family and, with the consent of those we interview, with the BOLLI community and preserved at Brandeis for posterity. The interviews will be posted on the BOLLI website and summarized for Banner readers with links to the recordings.

This information in this article has been compiled from an interview with long-time BOLLI member Ron Levy. Others will follow in the months to come. If you are interested in participating in the project and sharing your story, let us know by clicking HERE or by emailing BOLLI member Peter Bradley at bradleypa@mac.com.

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2 responses to ““Nomad from Baghdad: Meet BOLLI Member Ron Levy,” by Peter Bradley”

  1. Charlie Raskin says:

    Looking for answers to the various reasons for the success of Bolli over the past 20 years has been people like Ron and his wife, Sandi. They have given so much to positioning our group to further success in the future. Thanks to you both.

  2. Ruth Bramson says:

    What a wonderful story of a young boy’s courage and the brilliant career that followed. Ron is a constant and welcoming presence at BOLLI and I feel fortunate to have gotten to know him.

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