Levin grew up in Michigan and earned his degree in journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago. He was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy before beginning his civilian career in television news. He moved to Birmingham in the early 1970s to serve as news director for WBRC. While here he met Lucille Hare "Sis" Moss and married her. Soon the couple relocated to Houston, Texas where he began working as a correspondent for CNN.
Levin was promoted to Bureau Chief in Washington D.C. and Chicago, and then sent to Beirut, Lebanon as the network's Middle East Bureau Chief. On March 7, 1984 Levin was accosted by a man with a gun, forced into a car, and interrogated by Hezbollah members before being driven to a compound near Baalbek (Heliopolis) where he was held indefinitely as part of a concerted effort to secure the release of Hezbollah members held by the US in Kuwait as suspected terrorists.
Levin was among the first of 17 Americans taken hostage by Islamists during the Lebanese Civil War. He was held for nearly a year, during which time Sis Levin contacted activist Landrum Bolling and steadfastly pursued opportunities to press for his release via Syria. Levin managed to escape his immediate confines on February 14, 1985, and then was fortunate to soon be found by Syrian soldiers, who soon turned him over to U.S. officials at the embassy in Damascus. He was flown, at CNN president Ted Turner's expense, to a US Air Force hospital in West Germany where he and Sis were reunited. Some of the other U.S. hostages were released as part of the illegal "Iran-Contra" deal.
Sis Levin completed a doctorate in peace education at Colombia University, and published the first book-length account of their experiences, entitled West Bank Diary. Jerry Levin, who had converted to Christianity, began working as news and information director for World Vision United States. The Levins' story was dramatized in a 1991 ABC-TV movie, "Held Hostage: The Sis and Jerry Levin Story." In the years since, the Levins both worked to promote global peace and non-violence through writings, speeches and activism. They worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) to pursue non-violent activism in conflict areas, focusing on Palestinians subjugated by the Israeli government. They flew to Baghdad in 2003 as part of a CPT delegation which stood with local activists to protest the United States' invasion of Iraq. They established a Community Nonviolence Resource Center in Pasadena, California. In 2009 the Dalai Lama recognized the Levins as, "Unsung Heroes of Compassion".
Settling again in Birmingham the Levins also established themselves as supporters of the arts. Jerry Levin joined the board of Opera Birmingham and the couple traveled frequently, visiting major opera houses around the world.
Levin died in February 2020. He was survived by his wife, six children, eleven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
- Levin, Jerry (2002) Reflections on My First Noël. Pasadena, California: Hope Publishing ISBN 9781932717068
- Levin, Jerry (2005) West Bank Diary: Middle East Violence as Reported by a Former American Hostage. Pasadena, California: Hope Publishing ISBN 9781932717037
- Levin, Sis (1989) Beirut Diary: A Husband Held Hostage and a Wife Determined to Set Him Free. Westmont, Illinois: InterVarsity Press ISBN 9780830817160
- Levin, Sis & Jerry Levin (January 12, 1991) "Don't Call the Hostages in Lebanon 'Forgotten'." The Los Angeles Times
- Shamsi-Basha, Karim (May 30, 2018) "Hostage: Jerry Levin brings a unique perspective to unrest in the Middle East, as only someone held captive there can" B-Metro
- "Jeremy Isadore 'Jerry' Levin" obituary (February 9, 2020) The Birmingham News
- Yurkanin, Amy (February 11, 2020) "Former WBRC news director, Hezbollah hostage dies in Birmingham" The Birmingham News