Back in the days before cable television and the Internet, being a young journalist in Israel working in English was often a lonely and demoralizing business.
I recall navigating a world of gruff and dismissive Israeli VIPS who cared very much about what was written about them in Hebrew news outlets and very little about how they were covered in English. Before they could switch on CNN or go online and read the New York Times, and when the profession of public relations was in its infancy in Israel, it was hard to get one’s calls returned.
But there was one oasis in Jerusalem where foreign reporters knew they would consistently be treated with respect and professionalism from a tall, kind man named Charley J. Levine, and his team of hardworking young professionals. Levine’s staff knew how to respond quickly to a stressed-out journalist on deadline, and was always polite and upbeat – even when the same journalist had rejected their last three story pitches.
Charley J. Levine, who died on Sunday at 62 years old, founded that oasis – CLC communications – in 1983, a firm that he built into such a desirable entity, serving big names in industry and non-profit organizations, that it was acquired by international giant Ruder Finn, and was transformed into Ruder Finn Israel, where he served as CEO.
Levine left the office in 2006, again striking out on his own as Founder and CEO of Lone Star Communications. The name was a nod to his roots – Levine was famously born and raised in Texas before immigrating to Israel in 1978.
Levine earned his BA in Philosophy and Near Eastern Studies at New York University and MA in Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. In the U.S., he handled PR for the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and served as National PR Director of Hadassah.
After he made the move to Israel in 1978, settling in Jerusalem, he served as director of Information for North America of the World Zionist Organization and as a Captain (res.) in the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Corps. His company’s web site features a long list of big names that have availed themselves of Levine’s services, ranging from former Israeli President Shimon Peres to Prime Minister Netanyahu to Hillary Clinton to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He won several awards - most recently in 2011, for Israel's best international media campaign when he handled global branding for the rapper Shyne, whose comeback made the front page of the arts section of the New York Times, as well as coverage on CNN, BBC, Rolling Stone Magazine, The Washington Post and a list of other international outlets.
But in the end, what seems most impressive about Levine’s life are not just his professional accomplishments, but the great affection expressed for him by so many people - including journalists, clients and his former employees. Levine ‘raised’ several generations of public relations people, some of whom continued to work with him through the years and others who moved on to other companies or formed their own.
Those who worked with him say they will remember their former boss best for his humor and optimism.
“Perhaps Charley's greatest lesson for me was that life is too serious to be taken too seriously. He approached everything with humor and creativity and was truly a genius at identifying and highlighting the positive,” said Jeremy Wimpfheimer, CEO of DJW Consulting, who worked with Levine as a senior consultant to Lone Star for the past six years.
“Charlie's sense of humor was a highlight of working with and for him. At the beginning of my job interview, he asked me to present a joke. Imagine the challenge of this during an interview. It was his way of looking at the entire person and finding those with whom he could work. My joke was memorably awful, but I spent seven years working with him,” said Joshua Shuman, today CEO of S&A Communications, Jerusalem.
“For me Charley was a mentor, a source of inspiration, a great comedian and above all, a good friend,” said Dani Wassner, Communication Director at The Jewish Federations of North America who worked with Charley at Ruder Finn for seven years.
“He was the ultimate American who lived for good food, big cars, humorous jokes and business success. And yet, he only felt at home in Israel, the country he loved so much.”