Welcome to “Who the Folk?!” Every week on Monday we feature a new member of our Jewish community. Know someone we should feature? Nominate them by sending an email to [email protected].
Last week we got to know Claire Romera. This week meet Alex Levin!
Alex: I was born in Minsk, Belarus. Back then it was the Soviet Union. My family moved away when I was four-years-old, and we settled in St. Louis Park area in 1979.
TCJ: Was it an easy journey, or did you have to sneak out?
Alex: During the 1970s Soviet Jews were part of the refusenik movement which lead to the Soviet government imprisoning many from our community. Because of the sacrifices of these prisoners of Zion, eventually an agreement was made to release some of the Soviet Jews and allow them to emigrate. My family was a part of that movement.
TCJ: Any particular reason why Minnesota?
Alex: Yeah, apparently there were some Levins on my dad’s side who had already settled here. So we already had family connections here.
TCJ: And then you went and got a Catholic education…
Alex: Yeah, some of my closer friends from elementary and middle school were going to Benilde St. Margaret, so I decided that sounded good to me. I asked my parents, they agreed, and there began my Catholic adventure.
TCJ: Was Beth El already across the street at the time?
Alex: Yeah, Beth El was just next door. Benilde is in the eruv actually, the most Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Minnesota!
TCJ: Did that ever resonate or cross your mind at all when you were there?
Alex: You know, not really. Ironically enough, it was the sisters (the nuns) that were around me for many, many years that really kind of pointed me on the trajectory towards Judaism.
TCJ: So I take it they weren’t really pushing Catholicism on you.
Alex: No, not at all.
TCJ: They were more just encouraging you to explore your spirituality, so to speak?
Alex: Interestingly enough, being that my parents are from the Soviet Union (and I was born there); the official religion of the Soviets, as I’m sure you know, was Communism. So when we came to the United States, we could kind of make our own way. So I was one of those Jews on a self-discovery mission. And because I had religious classes as part of the curriculum at Benilde, I started to realize that there was a lot more to investigate. The more I learned the less I knew.
TCJ: Which ultimately led you to study abroad in Moscow, first, but then Jerusalem?
Alex: I studied abroad in primarily Moscow in the summer of 1996, and that was a crazy summer. HBO actually made a movie about it called Spinning Boris. It’s about how the Clinton political team was hired by the Boris Yeltsin team to save Yeltsin’s election. He was running against the last of the Communist party members and was losing the election. So they brought in the Clinton team, and they advised him on how to win the election. The primary advice was to start a war with Russia’s arch-nemesis, the Chechens. Then all hell broke loose: Moscow was under martial law, there was terrorism every day–it was quite a summer.
TCJ: What?! You were there for all that?
Alex: Yeah, the whole summer. It was pretty nuts, quite the experience. Amazing group of people, so many things to talk about. I saw Rage Against the Machine in Moscow that summer, on their first Russian tour–the Evil Empire tour, ironically.
TCJ: And you went to Jerusalem after that?
Alex: The following summer I decided to study abroad again, and I ended up in Jerusalem. At the University of St. Thomas, where I went to undergrad, I already had classes in Judaism and at that point I’d had some years of studying under my belt. I also spent some time on the coasts, but I was primarily in Jerusalem, in the Old City. I studied at Israelite Institute, and then went over to AISH, which was just across the alley. I was there for about a month-ish, and it was just an incredible experience.
TCJ: Then what led you to the business you have now, ThermoDynamo?
Alex: When I graduated from college, I worked in corporate for a few years. Primarily in the media departments for some large corporations. After a few years I decided I wanted to try entrepreneurship, but before that, I dropped out of corporate America and joined a heavy metal band called Lancelot Speed here in the Minneapolis area. I was a lead vocalist, and really loved it, but it didn’t pay the bills. So eventually I went to work for another year while I set up my business. I started my company with a good friend from high school who I still work with occasionally. And that was the start of ThermoDynamo, in approximately June of 2003. We’re primarily a web design/development, and online marketing company. So we design websites, develop them, maintain them, and market them.
TCJ: What’s your primary role?
Alex: As an owner, I wear many hats–like any small business owner. I’m the janitor as well as the art director. You know, I feel like, being a part of a family that had that refugee story coming out of the Soviet Union, what I’m doing is in some ways the ultimate portrayal of self-fulfillment and freedom.
TCJ: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
Alex: Purim! A rabbi told me that when Jewish history ends and the new Jewish history begins, the only Jewish holiday left will be Purim. It’s the only holiday that’s actually a holiday.
TCJ: What’s your favorite Jewish food?
Alex: It’s a toss-up. It’s hard to choose between a great lox, a great liver pâté, well-made matzah balls; and when it comes to brisket, only Jews and pro barbecue guys know how to do it right.
TCJ: Finally, give us one more reason why you’re folking awesome!
Alex: I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering for so many organizations around town. Volunteering for a good cause is folking awesome. Stand up and be counted!Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!