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Henrietta and Max Levine: 'We've seen some big problems in the world'

Sep 7, 2017

Henrietta and Max Levine have been activists for many decades and took part in numerous demonstrations against the Vietnam War. They say they're still activists today. "We haven't changed," Max Levine said. "Except we got old," Henrietta Levine quipped.
Credit Emily Hunt/WXXI

Max and Henrietta Levine met more than 70 years ago on a blind date — but it wasn’t with each other.

“Some other guy was my date,” Henrietta Levine said. “By the end of the evening, he took the young lady that he had a date with back to wherever she was staying and we joined forces at somebody's house.”

He invited her to Thanksgiving dinner the day after they met. Henrietta Levine said while she came from a “rather conservative Jewish family,” she quickly learned his was quite different.

“His family was, I would say, a socialist Jewish family and that dinner sort of was like somebody striking a match and suddenly I realized, ‘Oh, is that going on?’ ” she said. “His brother was a labor organizer, and his father had his ideas. And it just changed my way of thinking. Or it opened my way of thinking. I don't think I ever thought of anything much about what was going on. And why. And how.”

They married in 1942, and since then, their long life together — he’s 98 and she’s 96 — ­has been one of strong convictions.

Both were opposed to the Vietnam War; Henrietta was involved in a women’s group that protested outside the draft board and other sites and traveled to Washington, D.C., to take part in anti-war rallies.

One day, the group decided to close off Main Street in Rochester.

“That's when Main Street had Foreman's and McCurdy's on one side and Sibley's on the other,” Max Levin said.

“Yeah. These buildings on both sides,” Henrietta Levine said. “So anyway, we had about a half a dozen women at 12 o'clock and we decide we do this for one hour, and at 12 o'clock we joined hands, walked out at the corner of Clinton and Main street and one car sort of went through …”

“Stopped traffic,” Max said.

“And then we stopped traffic, and before we knew it, there were about 1,000 people there,” Henrietta said. “The kids came from East High, I don't know where they came from, but that block was full. And when the hour was up, they took 100 males and arrested them, including my husband. … He wasn't a protester at that point but of course he was with us.”

The Levines recall being involved in having U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse speak in Rochester about his opposition to the Vietnam War, and they said they even had notable anti-war activists Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden stay in their home on one occasion.

“They slept in our bed,” Henrietta said. “We went over to a neighbor's house and slept.”

“But nine months later, they had a baby boy,” Max said. “That’s a cute story.”

In the 1960s, the Levines were in their 40s, and they say many of the anti-war activists in Rochester were just like them.

The Levines have collected many buttons over the years at various demonstrations and other events.
Credit Emily Hunt/WXXI

“They didn't want their kids over in Vietnam fighting a war that they really didn't believe in,” Max Levin said. “And I do believe that wholeheartedly. That's why the movement became as strong as it was here in Rochester. I don't know about the rest of the country, but in Rochester I felt it. That was a strong feeling here.”

The Levines said they’ve remained activists.

“We haven't changed,” Max said.

“Except we got old,” Henrietta said. “It's not easy to go out. … We've gone to a couple of demonstrations, but it's not easy.

“We've seen some big problems in the world,” Max said. “It isn't the world that we look for and hope for. And work for, really. It's disappointing that at 98, you have to say that. I would rather say it was the world that I'd love to see. But we're in a terrible place.”

“It's sad to come to the end of your life and feel that instead of things getting better, at the present time I think in our country, they're worse, and for people around the world, they're worse,” Henrietta said.

The Levines can take heart, though, in knowing they’ve made a big difference where they could.

“Luckily, we helped individuals as well as the world, you know,” Henrietta said. “And we had people come and stay at our house. A guy from Chile when they overthrew the government. He came and lived with us for about four months … and we brought a whole family in from Chile, and we had a young woman from Mexico. … That helps. You can’t do the whole thing, but you know, a couple of people you maybe helped along the way.”

“We've been activists for all these years,” Max said, “and our activities have always tried to make things better not for us, but better for mankind.”

“I think that's very true,” Henrietta said.

“That's where our lives are going to end,” Max said.