By Cindy Mindell
NEW MILFORD – This week marks a milestone for the humor blog, “Levitty,” whose author, Joel Levitt, just published his 50th post.
In an online world awash in social-media sites, that might not seem like such a significant accomplishment. But the blog is somewhat unusual, in that it was conceived as a communication tool between generations. And a year before its launch, Levitt, who lives in New Milford, underwent major spinal surgery, depriving him of the use of his hands for an extended time.
In 2010, at age 60, Levitt retired as the district-wide art and music coordinator for the Danbury school system.
“I had been working mostly with young people – staff and students – and it was nice to be around young people and be involved in their lives,” he says. “When I retired and lost contact with them, it was disconcerting to me. So, I thought that one of the things I could do to stay in touch intergenerationally was to learn more about technology and do a blog.”
Levitt hired a student from Western Connecticut State University to set up “Levitty” on WordPress, and has been blogging every week since August 2015. Early on, he would post the humorous hand-drawn Jewish New Year cards that he created decades ago, like “Rabbis of the Lost Ark,” “Jewrassic Park,” and “A Charlie Brown Rosh HaShonah.”
Levitt has been thinking about Jewish humor for at least half his life; he remembers a Time magazine article from 1978 stating that 80 percent of American stand-up comedians were Jewish. Later, he developed a lecture, “Sixty Years of Jewish Humor in Sixty Minutes,” which he has presented to both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences.
“I would explore the question, why are Jews so funny? A lot of that has to do with our tragic history, and also with the fact that we’re highly verbal,” he says.
Levitt lived in Danbury with his wife, Barbara, for nearly 40 years before moving two years ago to New Milford to be close to their daughter and granddaughters. Brooklyn natives, the couple met at Hillel at Brooklyn College, just like the rabbi had predicted at freshman orientation. “He said, ‘Some day you will meet your spouse at the Hillel house,’ because he had,” Levitt recalls. “In Hillel, Barbara and I really cut our teeth Jewishly. Hillel was a defining influence. We’re still friends with people we met there, we keep a kosher home, and we have always been involved in the Jewish community.”
In 1976, when the couple had been married for three years, Levitt lost his job as an art teacher at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. Eager to experience life outside Brooklyn, they chose New London, where they joined the Orthodox synagogue, Congregation Ahavath Chesed, and where Levitt served on the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut board. He got a teaching job in Plainfield and, after three years, was appointed coordinator of music and art for the Plainfield Public Schools.
Levitt completed the UConn Education Administration program in 1980. With one child in tow, he and Barbara moved to Danbury and became involved in that Jewish Federation and at Congregation B’nai Israel, where they are still active. They had another child. Every night after the kids were put to bed, Levitt would write short humor pieces for magazines and newspapers, some of which were published in The New York Times, The News Times in Danbury, Writer’s Digest, and Reader’s Digest, among other publications.
This week, Levitt published his 50th post, a piece that he submitted to the New York Times 22 years ago, as he was turning 40. Although the blog itself is dedicated to humor, “everything that I write has a Jewish intonation to it, just like my speech,” he says.
Levitt considers his humor mainstream and very gentle.
“I don’t make controversial comments or jokes about my private life;
I don’t use foul language. Your humor has to reflect who you are and people will appreciate that if they think it’s authentic,” he says, noting that humor is difficult to write because the author lacks the benefit of instant feedback from a live audience.
Levitt’s attempts to bridge the generation gap with humor seems to be working, if the “Levitty” readership statistics are any indication.
“It’s amusing to me that a significant minority of my blog readers are younger people,” he says, specifically, 20- and 30-something women.
His outreach extends to other arenas as well. Together with Barbara, Levitt volunteered with the Jewish Outreach Institute (now Big Tent Judaism) Grandparents Circle, for Jewish grandparents whose grandchildren are being raised in an interfaith family – as their own granddaughters are. He is starting his fourth year as a volunteer with Families Network of Western Connecticut, a nonprofit devoted to preventing child abuse through education and support services. There, he co-teaches courses on fathering skills to single dads, dads going through divorce, and dads who have little contact with their children.
“I love it,” he says. “I tell my students that I’m the Jewish grandfather they never knew they had.”
Read Levitty: The Joel Levitt Humor Blog at https://levitty.wordpress.com.
CAP: Joel Levitt with the head of the eight-foot-high “doppelganger” cardboard sculpture that his staff surprised him with at his retirement in 2010.