There’s no doubt that Phil Levin is passionate about his job. This enthusiasm is one reason the board of the Seattle Aquarium gave him their conservation research award, donating $10,000 to the aquarium’s research center in his name earlier this year.
A community ecologist, conservation biologist, and program manager at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Levin has studied marine ecosystems from tropical coral reefs to the Arctic.
Dr. Levin is now examining the ecological health of our own Puget Sound by studying ground fish — species that live near the bottom of the ocean.
“We focus on the ways we can fix the problems we have created either by fishing, one of the larger impacts, but also climate change: How will climate change affect these fish populations and how can we plan for the future?
“Pollution is another big thing we work on,” he continues, “especially around Seattle because Puget Sound is a cesspool.”
Levin’s group also studies native sixgill sharks that live in the sound and Elliott Bay.
“We’ve been putting tags on them and tracking [them]…They spend a lot of time under the ferry landing around Alki Beach, and they seem to really like Salty’s,” he says, referring to the waterfront restaurant that faces downtown Seattle.
One of the most boring things he’s done, says Levin, is following one of these tagged sharks for 24 hours. It swam “from Salty’s…to downtown, and back and forth. They’re not real active,” he explains, “slow and lumbering, mostly scavengers.” (There’s more information at the aquarium Web site and a video at the aquarium.)
What Phil told me he really wanted to talk about was the annual benefit bike ride of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, held each year in LaConner. First diagnosed with MS about eight years ago, “over a period of three days I went from normal to paralyzed from the waist down.
“It was very scary,” he remembers, but after a few days of intensive drug therapy the paralysis began to reverse. He doesn’t relapse very often and takes medication to reduce the frequency and intensity of these events.
The diagnosis left him depressed. The government (his employer) decided he could no longer scuba dive on the job.
“I was always happiest underwater,” he reports. “I felt robbed by the disease….My body really let me down.”
A friend with MS suggested the bike ride. It seemed impossible, “but I did it a short time after I couldn’t even walk.” He reconciled with his body. “I asked it to do something, and it did what I asked, so I forgave myself.”
He rides with a team called Fish 4A Cure with riders from the aquarium, the UW, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and NOAA. Last year they raised $35,000. Levin has chaired the event in the past and he and his team have raised almost $100,000 since he began riding.
Seattle has among the highest rate of MS in the country (“There’s a chance you know someone who has it,” says Levin) and the association is always looking for more riders. For information visit www.nationalmssociety.org/WAS/event or call 206-284-4236. You can ride with or without a team and you can request that Phil speak to your group.
Levin is married to Elizabeth Braverman, a librarian at the Seattle Jewish Community School, where his twins, Kayla and Abe, are students. The family attends Congregation Beth Shalom.
A final word from Phil: Don’t eat rock fish. They are already endangered on the U.S.’s West Coast and what you find in stores is from Canada. The fish can live over 100 years and reproduce very slowly. A rule of thumb says Levin, is “you shouldn’t eat any fish that is older than your grandmother.”
Seattle artist Judith Silverman says “I’m more comfortable with a paintbrush than a computer.” But the power of the Internet didn’t fail to impress her after a Jewish school in the Bronx asked to use a copy of her painting, “The Shabbat Bride,” for the cover of their fundraising cookbook (The Thank G-d It’s Shabbat Cookbook).
The school saw the painting on Judith’s Web site, which was created for her by her husband, Jeff (www.commercialventvac.com/~jeffs/judith/). Silverman also allowed the Kinneret Day School to make reproductions of the painting to sell for further fundraising.
Silverman, who works in oil, watercolor and charcoal, studied at the University of Washington. She has taught art in Seattle schools and to senior citizens and has painted theater backdrops for a number of local groups.
As enthused as she is about her own art, she speaks with equal enthusiasm about presenting the works of others. For 11 years she’s been a member of the Temple Beth Am art committee, helping to hang shows in the synagogue’s hallways.
“It’s work,” she says, “but it’s also fun.”
The current exhibit features photos by some of the congregation’s high school members, and works by its ninth Grade class will be shown next.