By Ryan Torok
Levin’s military service and his injury had a transformative impact on him and opened his eyes to the challenges Israeli soldiers face after they are discharged.
“The shots kept coming and we couldn’t pin down the source. We had our weapons drawn, but we could not shoot blindly into the area we just came from, other Israeli soldiers were still in the area, and God forbid we hit them. Rather than return fire, we stayed pinned down while the head of our unit called in another tank. The tank rolled in and let out a smokescreen. As I crawled behind the tank, I could hear “pop pop” as the sniper’s bullets bounced off it.”
When Los Angeles native Max Levin was severely wounded during Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 conflict between Israel and Gaza, he began keeping a journal on his phone while in the hospital. Eventually uploading all of the notes onto his computer, he found he had hundreds of pages about his unique experience relocating from California to the Middle East to become a paratrooper soldier in an elite unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
He decided to turn what he had written into a book.
“I wanted there to be something out there that taught and showed the modern IDF through the lens of an American,” Levin, 28, said.
The result, “Under the Stretcher,” published on March 13, 2021 by Red Penguin Books, is a vivid and accessible memoir about a young Jewish-American’s experience as a lone soldier—one of the “determined young men and women from all over the world who choose to leave the comfort of their homes and families to become proud IDF soldiers … with no immediate family in Israel, or a warm and loving household to come home to,” according to the IDF
“When you talk about him being a lone soldier, he was really alone,” said his mother, Judy Levin, who also lives in Los Angeles.
Raised in a Zionist home, Levin visited Israel every year from the time he was one year old. At the age of eight, after meeting a family friend in Israel who was a commander in the IDF, he decided he, too, would become an IDF soldier.
Levin made good on that promise to himself. In 2011, after graduating from the Los Angeles-based de Toledo High School, then known as New Community Jewish High School, he expressed his desire to make aliyah (immigration to Israel) and enlist. When Levin told his parents that he wanted to move to Israel and serve in the military, the two had concerns, and only after he agreed to first participate in a gap year through Young Judea, so he could adjust to life in Israel, did they give him their blessing to go.
While living on Kibbutz Nir Oz, Levin underwent extensive training, and he joined Palcahan Tzahanim, a special forces unit within the IDF. One month later, in 2014, the war between Israel and Gaza broke out, and he was wounded in an explosion in Gaza—the worst explosion during the entire war. Four of his fellow soldiers were killed, including his commander, Lt. Paz Eliyahu.
“All I could think about was what was going on with my friends and how do I go back and support them,” Levin said. “When you’re with a close group like that and going through a major incident you don’t want to be alone, you want to be with those people, so the only thing I cared about was being with my friends in the army.”
Levin’s military service and his injury had a transformative impact on him and opened his eyes to the challenges Israeli soldiers face after they are discharged.
“When he finished the army, he was a completely different person,” Judy said. “He was so determined. He showed such strength of character.”
Levin, who moved back to Los Angeles and now works in strategic consulting for financial companies, has dedicated his book to those who did not survive the 2014 war. Proceeds from sales will benefit Bshvil haMahar (For Tomorrow), an Israel-based organization helping discharged IDF soldiers manage the aftereffects of combat experiences through group-led activities in nature.
On Aug. 25, Levin is participating in a live discussion about the book during a virtual Q&A organized by Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA). As of August 12, 300 people were registered to hear him speak.
Levin hopes readers and others tuning in to the conversation will “get insights about Israel today, including the last operation they had a few months ago, and hear my perspective of what’s going on, what the soldiers are going through, and how that ties into my experience in the IDF. It’s been a few years [since my service] but it’s still pretty relevant.”
To learn more about Levin’s story and ask him questions, join JNF-USA’s Reading Series event on Aug. 25. Register at jnf.org/readingseries.
Max Levin, Vice President of Landmark Equity Properties
By Diane Margolin
Editor and Publisher
Los Angeles-based Landmark Equity Properties has announced the appointment of Susan Loranger as its President, effective June 1.
Previously recognized by the Los Angeles Business Journal as one of Los Angeles’ Most Influential Women in Commercial Real Estate, Susan joined the company in 2020 following 19 years as Vice President and Director of Marketing and Leasing for Southern California’s largest publicly traded REIT, Douglas Emmett where she had oversight of leasing a portfolio of over ten million square feet.
Landmark Equity Properties Chairman Mark Wittcoff added that “Susan’s diverse experience and vast expertise is valued by our clients and partners who will benefit tremendously from her stewardship of their real estate investments.”
Established in 2016, Landmark Equity Properties is a Los Angeles-based commercial real estate investment management firm that provides asset management, leasing, project management, construction management, acquisitions and dispositions to private equity and institutional owners of income properties in the United States.
As President, Susan becomes one of very few women to lead a national commercial real estate investment and management firm in the United States. One of her broker friends, Sonya B. Schmidt, Vice President at CBRE, wrote to her on LinkedIn, “Congrats Susan! You are an inspiration and have been a great mentor for so many female brokers over the years. They are lucky to have you!”
Susan grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan where her dad worked in the automobile industry. He wanted his own dealership so he moved his family to Toronto, Canada, which was the fastest growing city in North America at that time. It was a big change for twelve-year-old Susan, where the people were warm and friendly, but at times teased her for her Michigan accent. As she got older, during summers she worked at her dad’s dealership in reception, accounting, as well as the parts and service departments. Eventually she got into auto sales.
A close family friend managed a large national commercial real estate firm and Susan got very interested in that field as she learned more about it. Susan earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Honors English with Economics from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario Canada.
When her college roommate decided to move to Los Angeles, Susan thought she would join her, work for two years, and then return to university for her MBA. She ended up selling cars at a Cadillac agency in Beverly Hills for a short time, but then decided she wanted to pursue a career in commercial real estate when the opportunity arose.
She started with an entry level position typing leases and proposals, and eventually had an opportunity to lease buildings on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood. Subsequently she took a listing in the office that no one else wanted to attempt leasing. She ended up successfully leasing it and several others. Soon she was the person the Douglas Emmett management wanted to handle all of their leasing activity.. When she started, “There were 40 of us,” she recalls, “and we had 700,000 sq. ft. to lease. During my tenure we grew to 10.5 million sq. ft., and over 500 employees. I managed a department with eight leasing agents, three attorneys, a marketing coordinator and administrative assistants.” When the company went public, Susan wanted to make a change. After 19 years, she missed the family feel of a smaller office. “The culture changes, “she explained. “It becomes more corporate.”
She is looking forward to working with Mark Wittcoff at Landmark Equity Properties because he is also a hard worker, very knowledgable in commercial asset management, and they both share the same vision to grow the company.
Susan loves living in Santa Monica and riding her bike all over the tree-lined streets and beach bike path. She also enjoys hiking, playing tennis and skiing. Additionally, she is active in the Los Angeles community where she serves as a member of the UCLA Stroke Rescue Program Council of Advocates.
Susan Loranger, President of Landmark Equity Properties
By Eric Berger
It might be surprising to some to hear Max Levin, a St. Louis native, say Israel “gave me a lot more than I ever gave them,” considering that he moved across the world to join the Israel Defense Forces, fought in the 2014 Gaza War, suffered a head wound and lost six members of his unit.Levin details how serving in the IDF had a transformative effect on him in his new book, “Under the Stretcher" by Max Levin. To demonstrate that appreciation for the country and his fellow soldiers, Levin, who now lives in Los Angeles, returns to Israel to reunite with members of his unit each year on Yom HaZikaron, the national remembrance day for fallen soldiers, which begins Tuesday evening.
Even though he is from St. Louis, Levin told the Jewish Light that he considers Israel his “first home, and it has a special place in my heart.” As a child and teenager in St. Louis attending Solomon Schechter Day School (now Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School), Levin traveled to Israel each summer with his parents who were “ardent Zionists,” he writes. His father, Bud Levin, served as a chairman of a Jewish Federation of St. Louis campaign. Levin, who moved to Los Angeles at age 14, also developed a deep connection to Israel. By the time he was in high school, he had decided that he wanted to serve in the IDF.
Despite his parents’ Zionism, they were fearful of him joining the army, said his mom, Judy Levin. They agreed that he would first do a gap year program in Israel with Young Judea, a Zionist youth movement to “make sure that this is really what he wanted to do, and then of course we would support him,” said Judy. After the gap year and participating in programs designed for prospective “Lone Soldiers,” as people who enlist in the IDF from other countries are called, Levin decided to join and earned a spot in a special forces unit, Palcahan Tzahanim. In America, Levin had been a mediocre student, but his time in the top unit instilled “a sense of discipline, a sense of pride, a sense of self confidence that was missing, and I have been able to take that and be a lot more successful in my life,” said Levin, who grew up attending Congregation B’nai Amoona and will give a virtual talk for the synagogue on June 14 at 5 p.m. But the experience also included tragedy.
The book, which is available for purchase on Amazon, focuses on the 2014 Gaza War, also known as Operation Protective Edge. That round of the ongoing conflict started when members of the terrorist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers. The IDF then launched an operation to arrest Hamas leaders, and Hamas responded by firing rockets into Israel, which resulted in a seven-week conflict.“We were so frightened at that time because we couldn’t speak to [Max], and you knew that people were getting killed,” said Judy. Levin’s unit entered the fray on what was supposed to be a two-day mission to destroy tunnels used by Gaza fighters to enter Israel and commit attacks. As they marched through the territory, trying to take control of buildings and locate the tunnels, they had to avoid gunfire and explosives.On the fifth day, another unit was ambushed.
Levin helped carry wounded soldiers laying on stretchers for kilometers from the scenes of attacks to a medical unit. “I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my veins and hear the blood pumping in my ears as we ran to the site with the stretcher in tow. I no longer noticed the pounding sun or weight of my armor and equipment,” Levin writes. On their sixth day — four days longer than planned — Levin’s unit tried to blast their way into a building with an explosive device, but as they approached the building, they were met with a giant explosion from a booby trap. “It felt like a baseball bat struck me on the side of my head,” Levin writes.
Blood began pouring down his face. Levin and other wounded soldiers were evacuated from Gaza in a tank. Four soldiers were killed and 18 others were wounded. Levin underwent surgery and spent five days in a hospital in Petah Tikva, east of Tel Aviv, and an additional week recovering and then returned to his unit for a new operation in the West Bank. Judy had suggested that he keep a journal during his army service, and when he was honorably discharged in 2015, he had more than 300 pages of notes, which led to the book, Levin said.
He spent six years writing it, “with the goal first and foremost of helping to remember those that we lost, especially from my team and unit, but also I wanted to create a road map for anybody who may have been interested in going into the IDF,” he said. Levin has a similar goal of honoring those who died on his annual trip to Israel for Yom HaZikaron. He and fellow veterans planned to travel to the soldiers’ grave sites and visit their families.
“Although it’s difficult for us, it’s obviously incredibly difficult for their immediate families and their parents, and we want to stay very close with them, especially on days like Yom HaZikaron, to gather together and mourn together,” Levin said over Zoom from Kfar Yona, a city in central Israel. Levin, 28, returned to the United States in 2015 and attended Columbia University in New York. In Los Angeles, he has a number of different jobs, including working as a management consultant for a real estate firm.
He would like to move into venture capital. And what better place than Israel, described in a 2009 book as the “Start-up Nation. ”Levin said his experience in the war is also “why I see myself coming back to Israel and living here because I am surrounded by that community, and being around everybody makes things a lot easier.”
Landmark Vice President Max Levin's new book describes his experiences in Israel's 2014 Gaza War
Doing Well by Doing Good
"Three decades managing every type of building for property owners in all areas of the Country informs Wittcoff's belief that the wellbeing of people in a community is the most important factor that determines the demand for real estate."
By Ariel Okamoto | December 7, 2020
UCLA has received $1 million from Mark and Laura Wittcoff to establish the Marjorie Scherck and Raymond Wittcoff Nursing Fellowship in Stroke Care Innovation. The fellowship will support nursing staff for the UCLA Arline and Henry Gluck Stroke Rescue Program, which operates a mobile stroke unit that provides early diagnosis and care when patients are being transported to a hospital.
The fellowship honors two of the Witcoffs’ family members who were committed advocates for nursing care as supporters of Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, where Mark’s father, Raymond Wittcoff, was chairman of the board at Washington University Medical Center. Marjorie Scherck, Laura’s grandmother, was a major benefactor of the hospital who took Laura to volunteer in the gift shop.
“Thanks to our beloved family members, we’re very lucky to be able to give, and it gives us great satisfaction to know that this gift memorializing them will advance UCLA’s mission of research, education and service,” Mark Wittcoff said. “We’re proud to be assisting UCLA, which helps all people with the same high level of care.”
The nursing fellowship marks the Wittcoffs’ second major gift to UCLA, following a 2019 contribution to support the stroke rescue program and other UCLA Health priorities. The Wittcoffs also volunteer as co-chairs of the program’s council of advocates, which is raising additional funds and recruiting community leaders to be ambassadors for the program.
In addition, the Wittcoffs serve on the board of the UCLA Health System. That position came about because of an invitation from Henry Gluck, and Mark Wittcoff said it was Gluck’s friendship and mentorship that inspired the couple’s most recent gift.
“We consider it a responsibility to raise much more than we give,” he said. “What better way to honor and continue Henry and Arline’s inspiring work than by ensuring that this life-saving program grows and lasts into the future.”
Stroke is the leading cause of disability, and one of the top causes of death, in the U.S. Because people’s ability to recover from a stroke often depends on how quickly they receive treatment, UCLA Health launched the Gluck Stroke Rescue Program in September 2017.
Staffed by a vascular neurologist, critical care nurse, paramedic and CT technologist, the ambulance was California’s first mobile stroke unit. In partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Emergency Medical Services and Department of Health Services, the program enables early testing and initial treatment while patients are transported to the most appropriate stroke center.
Since its inception, the program has grown from working with one fire department serving one city to six fire departments serving 23 cities in Los Angeles County, including socioeconomically disadvantaged communities where patients tend to face longer transport times to hospitals. Many of those communities also are home to racial and ethnic minorities, including African American and Hispanic people, who have higher rates of stroke incidence than the general public and for whom strokes are more likely cause disability and death.
Those disparities have been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, because the disease’s blood-clotting effects can contribute to stroke.
“Mobile stroke units have changed the paradigm of pre-hospital stroke care by providing patients conclusive imaging-based diagnoses, initiating hyperacute treatment and allowing for precise routing to the most appropriate level of stroke care,” said Dr. May Nour, the program’s medical director. “We are sincerely grateful for the Wittcoffs’ generous gift in support of clinical nursing in the Arline and Henry Gluck Mobile Stroke Rescue Program. Their commitment to expanding our program and its network of support has been invaluable.”
Mark Wittcoff is president and CEO of Landmark Equity Properties, an investment real estate asset management firm. Laura Wittcoff is a principal of InTrinsic Group, a boutique consulting firm, and an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work.
Landmark Equity Properties CEO Mark Wittcoff on the firm's response to COVID-19:
Enthusiastic supporters of Jewish National Fund-USA’s work explain how they came to pivot on innovative projects in Israel.
By ALAN ROSENBAUM JANUARY 27, 2020 22:52
‘I was a Zionist in belief, but I never really did anything for Israel in practice,” said Mark Wittcoff, 57, a Los Angeles-based asset manager in the field of commercial real estate, who assisted numerous local community causes and charities, such as the UCLA Health System, YMCA, and Meals on Wheels, but never applied his considerable talents to Zionist organizations. “I was always involved in the general community, as an important expression of our Reform Jewish values,” he said.
Sitting at breakfast in a Jerusalem hotel, at the conclusion of an intensive, two-and-a-half-week family mission to Israel, Mark and his wife, Dr. Laura Scherck Wittcoff, who have become dedicated, enthusiastic supporters of Jewish National Fund-USA’s work, explained their new outlook. What caused them to pivot to JNF-USA projects in Israel?
Smiling, Mark explained that it all started with a speech about water.In March 2017, Mark’s stepmother, 95-year old Roma Wittcoff, attended a JNF-USA event at her Phoenix senior citizens community. The speaker was Talia Tzour Avner, JNF-USA’s chief Israel emissary, who discussed JNF’s efforts in Israel in developing alternative water sources, advancing Israeli agriculture, and improving water quality.
Roma was moved and wanted to help. Together with her late husband Raymond – Mark’s father – and her oldest daughter Melanie, the family decided to fund development of the scenic waterfall promenade in the Western Galilee town of Ma’alot-Tarshiha, near the Israeli-Lebanese border.
The promenade, which overlooks the town’s man-made Monfort Lake, enables locals and visitors to walk, run, and cycle amid magnificent views of the lake and the surrounding hills. Part of the waterfall promenade project is a system that filters and cleans the water in the lake. Melanie then invited Mark and Laura to join them in supporting the project.
“I became very interested in the subject of water,” said Mark. “I started reading and I realized that what Israel is doing with water is cutting-edge. This is for the world. It’s not just for Israel. Israel is the example. I sent an email to my stepmother and my stepsister and I said, ‘I’m all in.’“
The Scenic Waterfall Promenade is an expression of what my father’s values were, and how we were brought up,” Mark said, “which was inclusion to help everyone. As Jews we are ecumenical – we bring together everyone – both Jews and non-Jews alike. This project is collaborative, and most of all, innovative.
”In the summer of 2019, enthused and energized, Mark and Laura went to Israel, seeing the sights and spending time learning about JNF-USA projects. After returning to the United States, they became major donors and decided to implement their own personal strategy for supporting JNF-USA’s work in Israel.
“We don’t view ourselves as philanthropists, or as wealthy people. We’ve always worked for a living; we have been self-supporting, and we will remain that way. Our commitment to JNF-USA and how we operate is that for every dollar we give, we’re going to raise at least $10.”
Given that Mark and Laura have donated $1 million to JNF-USA, their goal is to raise an additional $10 million from high-end donors in his field, as well as from among members of Mark’s family.
Mark, who has served as a member of the board of directors of eight non-profit organizations throughout his working life, noted that JNF-USA is the most impressive, accountable, and transparent non-profit organization with which he has ever been associated. “They get results, and what they are doing in Israel brought us here.”
Like Mark, Laura grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and was raised with a charitable, civic sense of responsibility. On their trip to Israel this past summer, Laura learned how Israel contributes to the world on a global level by visiting different JNF-USA projects. “I knew that Israel contributed to the world globally,” she said, “but I really didn’t understand that the concept of ‘Tikkun Olam,’ repairing the world, is a core value when you think about how Israelis contribute to the world.“That is how I want to live my life.
When you give and you give openly and freely, you get back. That is a Jewish core value and it’s an Israeli value from a global perspective.”Laura, who trained as a social worker, now works in non-profit organizational development and is an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Southern California.
With her newfound connection to JNF-USA, she is using her professional expertise to help the organization’s affiliates in Israel refine their message and share their stories with a larger worldwide audience.Said Laura: “I have worked in non-profit organizations for the last 25 years, and rarely do you find an organization that is not just lay-supported, but whose structure is lay-led. To me, JNF-USA’s tag line ‘Your Voice in Israel’ is the collective voice that supports having a global impact.”
For Laura, what makes JNF-USA’s work in Israel special is the way that it unites people. “When you bring communities together – whether by bringing people with special needs together with the non-special needs world, or whether it is the Arava Institute that educates Jews, Jordanians, Palestinians and individuals from other countries, Israel is making a statement to its neighbors: ‘Not only are we here to stay, we want to give. We don’t just want to take.’”
In addition to their support of the Waterfall Promenade Project, Mark and Laura are promoting additional projects in the Western Galilee, as well as actively supporting the Nefesh B’Nefesh On Campus program, which visits North American college campuses to educate students about the opportunities available in Israel to young professionals.
As they prepared to return to California, Mark and Laura recalled the highlights of this most recent visit to Israel, which included 24 members of their immediate and extended families, ranging from Roma Wittcoff, Mark’s 95-year-old stepmother, to another family member who celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall.
Their trip included visits to ALEH-Negev in Israel’s South (part of JNF-USA’s Blueprint Negev project) where Roma was honored for her generous support, as well as trips to Ma’alot to view the water promenade project, and to the Western Galilee, to investigate JNF-USA projects that are increasing population in the Galilee. Roma’s daughter Melanie herself is part of the JNF-USA’s Go North Task Force.
They also visited Jerusalem, where Mark dedicated a tile on the Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill in memory of his father Raymond, who passed away in 2018, and enjoyed a private family visit with President Reuven Rivlin at his residence.
“You don’t have to be rich to be philanthropic,” said Mark. “You don’t have to put your name on things just to be part of it. Whether you are a Jew or a Christian, whatever your faith, whatever your beliefs, no one can deny that Israel leads the world in innovation. We’ve seen it in medicine, in agriculture, in education, in caring for people with special needs, and in technology. For me, however, it started with water.”
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