Fellow congregants of Chandra Levy pray for her return

Every morning as Rabbi Samuel Graudenz prays, he davens for the safe return of Chandra Ann Levy.

"I can only pray, though the signs are not good, that God will find her alive and well," said the 85-year-old rabbi emeritus of Modesto's Conservative Congregation Beth Shalom, where Levy's parents are members. "It's difficult to see a positive outcome, but at least I can hope."

Levy, a 24-year old Jewish woman from Modesto, vanished suspiciously from Washington, D.C., earlier this month. A graduate student in public administration at the University of Southern California, she had just completed an internship with the federal Bureau of Prisons and was expected to return to Modesto May 9 in time for her May 11 graduation.

Graudenz, now retired and a resident at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville, said he prepared the dark, curly-haired Levy for her bat mitzvah and was "deeply shocked" by her disappearance.

"I knew her as a fantastic student and a beautiful, conscientious girl," he said. "What has happened has put a terrible, terrible pressure on me as a rabbi."

Meanwhile, congregants at Beth Shalom have been aiding community efforts to find Levy, working with the Carole Sund-Carrington Memorial Reward Foundation, a Modesto-based group that helps families find loved ones. Soon after the disappearance, Robert and Susan Levy, the parents of the missing woman, contacted the foundation.

Levy was last seen publicly April 30 when she canceled her membership at the Washington Sports Club near her apartment in Dupont Circle. Because there is no evidence of a crime, police are pursuing the disappearance as a missing person case, said D.C. police officer Tony O'Leary.

"We're following up multiple leads," said O'Leary of the ongoing investigation, which has encompassed several scenarios — including random abduction.

Family and friends — including Rep. Gary Condit (D-Modesto), who called her "a good friend" but was rumored to be more than that — made contributions to the Carole Sund-Carrington foundation, offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to Levy's safe return.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein added another $5,000 to the fund last week.

Although she is not a close friend of the Levys, Beth Shalom congregant Evelyn Heilbron has known the family for years and has been volunteering through the foundation.

"We're a small community where everybody knows everybody," she said. "We're doing whatever we can to help them keep the hope alive. Everybody's sitting with their fingers crossed."

Little is known about the missing woman's religious beliefs and involvement. However, some Beth Shalom congregants, including Doreen Goldman, admit to "disagreeing strongly" with Chandra's mother Susan because she is "a Jew with a belief in Christ." That, however, did not deter Goldman and others from aiding the foundation and bringing attention to the family's plight.

Graudenz also confirmed that Susan Levy had "some strange beliefs," but both he and Goldman were unsure if Chandra Levy shared them.

"She's a very nice girl but she's also very hard to get close to," said Goldman of the missing woman. "She didn't really open up a lot."

Susan and Robert Levy did not return phone calls as of press time, but both have appeared extensively on national television and spoken to several media sources.

Paul Gordon, the rabbi at Beth Shalom since August, said he has only met Levy in passing during synagogue services since she has been away at school and in Washington. But he said he wants her family to know that the congregation is there for them.

"In tzedakah, we give ourselves not only financially but emotionally as well," he said. "The Jewish community supports families in need, no matter what the need is — especially in situations when a family doesn't know where their child is."

Gordon said he has been in touch with synagogues and rabbis in the D.C. area, requesting that they assist in the distribution of information regarding Levy's disappearance, "an important aspect in the search."

During a candlelight vigil held Saturday in Levy's Washington neighborhood, Rabbi Tamara Miller, director of Jewish learning and living at the Jewish Community Center in Dupont Circle, said a prayer for the missing woman.

Levy's friend Jennifer Baker, herself a former intern in Washington, describes Levy as a "dynamic, enthusiastic and energetic" person who liked to shop and go to movies. She said Levy had hoped to enter the FBI or work in law enforcement.

"It is out of character for her to just disappear," said Baker, "but I'm trying to stay positive and focused on bringing Chandra home."

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