By David Charlop
This weekend from May 5 to 7, dozens of Great Neck North and South High School graduates will be celebrating their 45th reunion.
I am a graduate of that class but, unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend. My home is now in Israel, which is a little
far for a weekend visit. My older sister, Meg, graduated South two years before me, in 1970, and my brother, Gordon, graduated from the Village School in ’76.
Meg was known and beloved by all. She had a heart of gold and a smile that radiated joy. She enjoyed her education in Lakeville, Great Neck South Junior High and Great Neck South High School, taking full advantage of the resources in the theater and music departments. After college, she became a dynamo of a tenant organizer, first in Manhattan’s West Side and later in the South Bronx. She later changed focus to help provide the less fortunate with quality medical care.
I attended the same Great Neck schools but wasn’t received with the same enthusiasm. Teachers, initially excited to have Meg’s brother, realized that although we shared the same parents, we didn’t share the same shining temperament. Meg was a tough act to follow.
After high school and then SUNY Purchase, I took an eventful trip to Israel, where I met a good friend and fellow ’72 classmate Glenn (now Gedaliah) Gurfein. He suggested that I try some classes at a Jerusalem-based yeshiva. I agreed and decided to stay on. After much questioning and struggle, I made a major life change and embraced a Jewish religious lifestyle. Even though I wasn’t pursuing or interested in religion, when truth comes knocking at your door, you answer.
Among the many repercussions of my choice was the change in my family’s dynamic. Everyone worked overtime to keep channels of communication and caring open.
Seven years ago, life changed for all of us. Meg was riding her bicycle to work when, in a lightning-fast series of events, she was hit and killed by a city bus. The tragedy was staggering. Throngs of people attending the funeral forced the police to close off traffic in front of Riverside Chapel on North Station Drive. It took all of us years to deal with the loss, particularly our father, Meg’s husband and children, and my brother, Gordon.
At some point, the opportunity to process her death came in the form of writing a book. I both wanted and needed to journal “Meg stories,” my relationship with her and the dynamic of the challenging issues we contended with.
I recently completed Connecting Two Worlds, a book about my sister, myself and our relationship. The work is very personal, reflecting my love for my sister, the love she returned and her greatness in accepting her brother, even when she didn’t always agree with me.
In the book, I discuss how we attempted to bridge differences while maintaining caring and respect. Included are the larger questions we grappled with. Is religion a box that, at best, keeps the needy safe or is it an opportunity to connect to and cultivate the Divine within?
The book isn’t primarily a chronicle of Meg’s accomplishments. It is my attempt to portray how love became the glue bonding brother and sister, despite disparate values and lifestyles. My hope is that the book will be an inspiration for increased tolerance and acceptance. What greater tribute could I offer my incredible sister?
George Levien, who organized the Great Neck High School 45th reunion at the Inn of Great Neck this weekend, will be distributing the book at the event. Connecting Two Worlds can also be ordered at www.connectingtwoworlds.co. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.