November 21, 2018

The Mensch List: A magical ability to conjure up fun

California “Super Lawyer”/magician Stephen M. Levine likes to joke that he can make legal troubles disappear. Ditto for rabbits and quarters.

Unfortunately, he can’t make the same promise about the troubles facing all of the people he meets through his volunteer performances — sick kids at a children’s hospital, aging amputees at a Veterans Administration (VA) campus.

“It tugs at you,” Levine, a father of two, said. “You wonder, are they going to be around next year?”

But the Agoura Hills resident — also known as Stephen the Spectacular — does what he can to at least bring a smile to their faces. Despite working full time as a real estate and business trial lawyer, he regularly trades in his briefcase for a magic wand.

“I do it because I love performing for the kids,” Levine said. “I enjoy it — to make people feel good, to give them that sense of wonderment.”

Sometimes he is paid when he performs, but Levine believes it’s important to give back, too. A member of the Magic Castle’s outreach committee, he was among those who strolled through a group of 4,000 veterans, active-duty personnel and their families, doing magic for nearly five hours during a recent holiday event — only to leave for another charity event. 

Adept at stage, parlor and close-up magic, Levine has opened his bag of tricks for schools, synagogues, senior living facilities, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the VA, an autism support group and other places. Sometimes he’s there to help with fundraising, other times he just wants to spread a little fun.

Don’t assume Levine’s work is only about catering to kids. These days, parents and grandparents may need to believe in a little magic, too.

“Adults, I think, want to believe more, especially in these times. They want to be able to suspend reality,” he said.

Levine, 50, grew up on Long Island in New York, where he first got into magic as a preteen. He gave it up when he went to college, only to rediscover the skill much later as a means of calming his then-3-year-old daughter.

These days, he’s well practiced. He can make your body levitate and your head disappear. 

Perhaps his best tricks, though, have nothing to do with magic. At The New Shul of the Conejo in Agoura Hills, for example, he founded the Men’s Club and is currently the group’s president. In this capacity, he’s helped initiate things like family hikes and single-malt scotch tastings.

“For a lot of guys, especially ones that work, it gives them a sense of camaraderie and community,” he said.

And as the head of Friends of the Agoura Hills Library, he’s helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years by assisting with its used-book store, the Book Cellar. That money pays for periodicals, programming and more.

No need to thank Levine for any of this, though. Really. He remembers some veterans in wheelchairs who once tried.

“I said, ‘No. Thank you. I appreciate what you did for this country.’ ”