Milwaukee’s Area 51?

By: Jaxon Katch, 7th Grade Student

When it was time to pick a project for my Bar Mitzvah, my Mom and I talked about ideas and I knew that I wanted to do something different.  In fact, when she asked me what I was going to do, I thought to myself “am I going to have to collect underwear?”  Not that collecting donations isn’t a valuable project, but I just wanted to do something different.  Because I really like history, my Mom talked to Ellie Gettinger at the Jewish Museum in Milwaukee and asked if there was something for me to do at the Museum.  When my Mom told me that the museum would allow me to volunteer in their archives, I was shocked.  I said….”the archives?  That’s like the Area 51 of Jewish Milwaukee!”  I was really excited.

When I first arrived at the archives I looked around a bit and realized that I was right, this place is the Area 51 of Jewish Milwaukee.  I mean, they have everything there, stuff not a lot of people know about….. I got to take a tour of the archives and see all sorts of really neat stuff. It was really exciting.

Because I like history so much, for my project, I got to read through some old WWII letters written by Jewish soldiers with a connection to Milwaukee.  The museum needed help typing some of the hand-written letters so they could reference them later.

Jay Hyland, of the archives, randomly gave me the file on a soldier named Leonard LeVine, a Major in the Army Air Corps, and I never really moved on from him.  Leonard was from Milwaukee and even went to Whitefish Bay High School, the same High School that I will attend. This intrigued me even more.  Jay also found an old article about Leonard’s parents’ house in Whitefish Bay.  On the way home that day I made my Mom drive by his old house.  This house is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  All this only made me wonder more about Leonard’s life after the WWII letters.  From the letters, I knew that his family had owned Rosenberg’s department store in Milwaukee – Leonard would sometimes talk about business and sales in his letters to his parents.  He also talked about getting private tailor to make his military uniform for him with the budget from the military instead of ordering it through the army.  He knew business well and I guess fashion too.

Well, then I started googling him.  I soon realized Leonard grew up to be a very successful man.  I found that he died on December 22, 2008, he was 91 years old, and was buried in the Spring Hill Cemetery, also right here in Milwaukee, and also another reason to hop in the car and go find his grave.   My googling also found that when he died he gave $7.6 million to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which was their biggest donation ever.

Leonard wrote a lot about not having any spare time in the service, most letters started with him saying that he only had a few minutes, but he always wrote.  He regularly wrote his parents about how and what he was doing and where he might be transferred next.  In one letter, he talks about getting into the officer candidate school, after I put the letter back in the stack, I noticed that a few letters down in the stack a return address was peeking out and it was from the school he wanted, I was excited to see that he got into the school and of course couldn’t wait to read more. I almost never wanted to leave when my time was up.

I feel really lucky to be able to see into Leonard’s life and am thankful to him for his military service and for his contributions to Milwaukee.  They say that a Mitzvah project can be my way of saying “thank you” for my blessings in a real way.  In the end, I typed and scanned all of Leonard’s letters which probably helped the museum only a little, but I got to “know” a really cool man and part of Jewish history and for that I thank the Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

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