Olan, Levi Arthur (1903–1984)

By: Gerald Klein

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: April 24, 2019

Levi Olan, rabbi, scholar, and teacher, was born Levi Olanovsky in the Ukrainian village of Cherkassy on March 22, 1903, the son of Max and Bessie Olanovsky (later Olan). His parents immigrated to the United States to escape the violence of the pogroms, and Olan was educated in the public schools of Rochester, New York. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1925 and graduated and was ordained a rabbi at Hebrew Union College in 1929. He married Sarita Messer of Cincinnati on June 9, 1931, and they had three children. Olan served as a rabbi in Worcester, Massachusetts, until January 1, 1949, when he became rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, one of the largest Jewish congregations in the country. In part through broadcasts on KRLD radio and WFAA television, he was known as a powerful preacher and brilliant scholar. His outspoken views on race relations and the war in Vietnam were widely quoted in the 1960s. Many called him "the conscience of Dallas." Olan's passion for education manifested itself in his service as a regent of the University of Texas (1963–69) and as a visiting professor at, variously, Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas at Arlington, Emory University in Atlanta, and Leo Baeck College in London, England. He received honorary doctorates from Hebrew Union College, Southern Methodist University, and Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He was a member of several city boards and associations in Dallas, including the Dallas Symphony Orchestra board, the Jewish Welfare Federation, and the Dallas Citizens Interracial Association. His works include numerous book reviews and the books Judaism and Immortality (1970), and Maturity in an Immature World (1984). Olan was a leading interpreter of the theology of Reform Judaism and was president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis from 1967 to 1969. He retired in 1970 and died in Dallas on October 17, 1984. He is buried in Temple Emanu-El Cemetery, Dallas.

Jack Bemporad, ed., A Rational Faith: Essays in Honor of Levi A. Olan (New York: KTAV, 1977). Dallas Morning News, October 18, 1984. Proceedings of the Philosophical Society of Texas, 1984. David Ritz, "Inside the Jewish Establishment," D Magazine, November 1975. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Gerald Klein, “Olan, Levi Arthur,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 08, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/olan-levi-arthur.

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May 1, 1995
April 24, 2019

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