Collection on Levi A. Olan
A Guide to the Collection
Levi Arthur Olan was born March 22, 1903, in Cherkassy, Ukraine. He and his parents, Max and Bessie Leshinsky Olan, immigrated to the United States seeking to escape anti-Jewish violence, settling in Rochester, New York. Levi Olan attended the University of Rochester, Hebrew Union College, and the University of Cincinnati (B.A., 1925).
After being ordained in 1929 at Hebrew Union College, Rabbi Olan served Temple Emanu-El in Worcester, Massachusetts for twenty years, guiding the congregation through the Great Depression and World War II. From 1949 until his retirement in 1970, Levi Olan led Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas. His ministry in Dallas included a long-running series of radio broadcasts, The Temple Emanu-El Program.
For more than two decades, Rabbi Olan served as lecturer in Judaism at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, working out of an office at Bridwell Library. To honor Rabbi Olan’s great love of books, friends, family members, and colleagues established the Levi A. Olan Collection of Fine Books at Bridwell Library in 1963. That same year Texas Governor John Connally appointed Olan to the Board of Regents of the University of Texas, a position he held until 1969.
As a theologian, Rabbi Olan was respected and prolific. His publications included On the Nature of Man (1948); Rethinking the Liberal Faith (1949); Judaism and Modern Theology (1956); Reinhold Niebuhr and the Hebraic Spirit (1956); Judaism and Immortality (1971); and Prophetic Faith and the Secular Age (1982). Olan served as president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis from 1967 to 1969.
An outspoken civil rights activist, Rabbi Olan has been called “The Conscience of the City [of Dallas].” In recognition of his many accomplishments, Olan received honorary degrees from Hebrew Union College, Southern Methodist University, and Austin College in Sherman, Texas. SMU’s 1968 citation reads:
Distinguished religious leader, educator, humanitarian, he has extended the honored role of rabbi (Teacher) beyond the bounds of his congregation to include the whole Southwest region. As an eloquent preacher and lecturer, he has communicated the best of the Jewish heritage to a wide audience with great integrity and compassion. As a university regent and dedicated public servant, he has upheld the human cause in many crises and has won for himself our admiration and true affection. It is this rare combination of talent and devotion that we delight to recognize this day with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.
Levi Olan married Sarita Messer on June 9, 1931, and the couple had three children (Elizabeth Hirsch, Frances Olan, and David Olan) and four grandchildren. Rabbi Olan died in Dallas October 17, 1984, at the age of 81.
"Rabbi Levi Olan Dies at 81" The Dallas Morning News. Thursday, October 18, 1984.
An Inventory to the Levi A. Olan Papers. American Jewish Archives [online resource]. Available at http://www.americanjewisharchives.org/aja/FindingAids/Olan.htm accessed 12/2/2010.
Gerald Klein, "OLAN, LEVI ARTHUR," Handbook of Texas Onlinehttp://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fol09), accessed April 01, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Through print, manuscript, and audio materials, the collection on Levi A. Olan gives evidence of Rabbi Olan’s scholarly writings and public teachings. To a lesser degree, the collection also documents Olan’s ministry at Temple Emanu-El and his personal connections with SMU and Bridwell Library.
Access to Collection:
The collection is open for research use. Patrons must sign the Acknowledgement of Legal Responsibility and Privacy Rights form before using this collection.
Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Head of Special Collections of the Bridwell Library.
It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.
Sensitive Materials Statement:
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications for which Bridwell Library assumes no responsibility.
[Identification of item], Collection on Levi A. Olan, Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.
Acquired. Bridwell Library staff members created this collection from multiple sources. The seven bound volumes of Rabbi Olan’s radio sermons were given by Rabbi Olan and Temple Emanu-El. The loose sermon copies were passed on to Perkins School of Theology Professor Roy L. Heller in 2003 by Betty E. Hamilton. In 2006 Dr. Heller forwarded these items to Bridwell Library. Additional materials came from the Special Collections stacks (accessions 30158-30160) and archives storage rooms in 2010 and 2012. Elizabeth Hirsch, daughter of Rabbi Olan, added two books to the collection in 2011 (accession 2011.02) and three folders of papers in 2012 (accession 2012.03).
Bridwell Library’s Collection on Levi Olan was arranged and described in 2011 by Timothy S. G. Binkley with the assistance of Heather M. Oglevie. The finding aid was updated in May 2013 by Timothy S. G. Binkley.
Lara Corazalla, 2011.
Detailed Description of the Collection