Saturday, March 3, 2012

Phil Levy - 30th July 1935-3rd March 1987

(from Emma Levy)

Today is 25 years since my dad died.  This weekend's blog is a special tribute him.  Although, 25 years later, my memories of him are not as strong as I wish they were, the essence of him still is.  He was a man who adored his family.  He loved his friends, and loved having them over and playing the host, particularly introducing them to a new wine or whisky that they MUST try.

His parents ran a clothing store on the main road of Lower Hutt, which he later ran.  That meant he was pretty available during the day - he dropped me off at school some days, came to school events, and the shop was a place we frequented.  As a kid I remember playing there, running through clothes and getting told off.  He had a store in Lower Hutt and one in Wainuiomata, which we would go to less frequently, but it was in a mall that had a sweets shop that sold meringues in the shapes of animals, and we were allowed to choose one each time we were there.  (And he had a shop assistant called Judy who, according to dad, wore her pyjamas under her floor length skirt on very cold days).  There were many stories that dad told that didn't sound likely, but we never knew for sure.

Everyone in Lower Hutt seemed to know him.  We'd walk down High St and people would call out "Hi Phil, how's the family?".  They'd stop and have a chat for what seemed like an eternity, and when they finally finished and walked away, I'd say "Who was that?" and he'd say "I don't know."  Every time I would shriek and ask how he could talk to someone for THAT long about their lives and not know who they were.  But he could.

Dad was a great food lover - yes it could be said that he over-indulged at times - and particularly loved all the foods that came out only once a year for Jewish festivals.  A special love was his mother's Maztah Balls - these are balls made out of the "large square crackers" called Matzah, that Jews eat at Passover (Pesach).  They are VERY yummy in a bowl of chicken soup.  As his mother was ageing, she called up my mother (not her own son) to learn how to cook them in case she died sometime soon.  Although she frequently considered dying very soon, she was as tough as nails and was a strong presence in our lives.  It was the death of my dad, her only son, that proved too much for her, and she passed away four weeks after he did.  This recipe, therefore, is a salute to them both - the mother who made the maztah balls, and her son who loved to eat them.

Today, 3rd March, I remember my dad, Phil, with love.

Matzah Balls
4 sheets Matzah
1 good-sized onion, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 teacup Matzah Meal
1 egg
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1.    Soak matzah, then drain in sieve.
2.    Press water out with back of spoon.
3.    Leave to dry while frying onion.
4.    Take off heat.
5.    Add egg, salt & pepper, and ½ tsp nutmeg.
6.    Mix well.
7.    Add matzah meal until it's the right consistency for rolling.
8.    Roll into balls with wet hands and roll balls into matzah meal.
9.    Put on flat dish and refrigerate.
10.  Later, drop the balls into boiling, salted water until they rise to the top.
11.  Do a few (3-4) at a times as to keep the water boiling.
12.  As soon as they rise, remove with spoon.

The fabulous photo above was sent in by Raoul Ketko, a lifelong friend of my dad.  Raoul said that naturally they had to sample the wine to ensure it would complement the meal properly.   Read the comments section below for Raoul's memories of Phil and their friendship. 


  1. Lovely lovely post, Em. It's wonderful to see your Dad "come alive" through tour writing. He's fondly remembered.

  2. Thanks Bindy. You are very much a part of my memories of that time. Not sure how I'd have got through all of that in those post-machon weeks without you and Mal.

  3. A lovely tribute to our very good friend who passed away far too early! My memories of him remain strong and cause me many chuckles. On several occasions he and I, as a culinary team, produced some grand meals for the Levy-Ketko foursome. They were enjoyed by our spouses as much for their rarity value (they didn't have to do the cooking) as for their haut de gamme culinaire. Our love to you and your siblings as we remember Phil.

  4. I did not realise that your Dad died on my birthday. I will always remember him on that day now.

    I have such lovely memories of him and his great zest for life. My favourite memory is as a young woman, when I was holidaying with Viv Fleigner and Janine Schiff and we were wine tasting when we came upon your parents. We both slammed on the brakes and your Dad yelled across the road that we were drunken floozies. We laughed until it hurt! He died much too young Emma. Much love, Deb Hart xoxo

  5. A beautiful post Emma. I mostly remember sitting very quietly in the backseat when it was your Dad's turn to carpool us to Hebrew school and how lovely both your parents were when we all descended on your place.
    Tamar x

  6. And I especially remember how Phil helped me out on my first trip into the High Street as a "new driver" (having actually received my licence after only 40 lessons***. I had stopped right opposite "Herbert Stanley's" clothes store, realised I couldn't do anything other than parallel park, so, in absolute panic mode, got out of my car, crossed the road, ran into the shop, and pleaded with Phil to come out and park it for me! He did. Now that's true friendship!

  7. Thanks so much for all the comments guys.

    Ruth - I love that story!! I'd never heard it before. Parallel parking never gets easier! I'm not sure you could just leave a car like that anymore, even in Lower Hutt!!

    Raoul - I do remember those nights when the blokes cooked (I can't believe that men cooking had such novelty value, sad sad sad!!!)

    Deb - I didn't realise it either until this year, when Simon posted about your birthday and I realised it must have been your 25th that same day. I actually like it when life and celebration coincides with death. Something about the life cycle keeping going I guess.

    Tamar - thanks so much, I am chuffed that you read the blog. I will never forget those car pool rides. They are in the history books of my memory. I liked having that time in the van - it was fun and gave us a nice start to the day before Hebrew school.

    Thank you to all of you for sharing this with Nicki and me - being far away from Wellington makes it even harder to connect to those years, when there aren't many people around who knew you back then. It was lovely to have the company of old friends and their memories on the 3rd.