What are your thoughts as we enter this strangest of all new years? Mine are full of memories: from the past, and from now, the present, which will quickly enough become our newest past.
Sadly, this new year begins with two losses. I will not describe them with adjectives such as “devastating”; if you already knew them — personally, or just “knew of” them by reputation — you will already know the immense voids they have left in our lives.
We all knew of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nationally famed, and well so. Not everyone here in our geographical area personally knew Rabbi Jeffrey Leynor, but those who did are in deep mourning, and those who didn’t — I feel sorry for you, because you never got to know how much you have missed…
To do justice to RBG would take more than all the media have already invested in well-deserved post-mortem tributes to her. And even though many on the extreme Right immediately started making suggestions on how soon President Trump would be naming his replacement choice, there were some moving tributes from that quarter, including unabashed praise in a widely-distributed post from the group calling itself “Proud Patriots.”
(I take a parenthetical break here to offer, along with my own tears, a devout hope that our current political season will end even more quickly than it’s scheduled to, taking with it the average 250 posts in my inbox, and the equal number in my junk box, at all times these days, mostly from warring parties; I cannot seem to cut the number down although I try, often three or more times a day…)
Now, about Rabbi Leynor: He became the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Torah in 1989, and I claim pride in being a member of the committee that searched and found him. His first days on that pulpit were at this time of the year, and his first urging was that we should obtain one of the Holocaust Memorial Torahs then being distributed widely to synagogues and other appropriate institutions. And this was accomplished as soon as possible. I was also in the synagogue sanctuary when he made his last “appeal” to the congregation: It was at the end of a minor holiday, he was visibly hurrying through the service, and he finally said: “Please excuse me for leaving so quickly. My wife is having brain surgery…” and he rushed away. Karen Leynor did not survive, but her spirit has lived on since in Beth Torah’s annual All-Congregants Mitzvah Day, named in her memory.
Jeffrey Leynor was not asked to leave that shul; it was his choice, after his wife’s death, not to have any pulpit position with its concentration on membership needs, but to be a free-roaming rabbi in service of the entire community — Jewish and otherwise. One of his first regular tasks was to accompany police when there was any emergency call, in case spiritual assistance might be needed at the scene or soon afterward. And he always reached out to interfaith couples considering marriage with a special ketubah he wrote for them, its elements speaking to the inherent goodness in both their faiths, whatever they might be. Finally, he might be best remembered for his ongoing service to residents of The Legacy, their staff members, and their own families.
This past week, as I watched clouds parting in our skies, I could picture them opening, welcoming these two very special new residents to their forever heavenly homes. I relived calling upon Rabbi Leynor once, long ago, to help me solve a very thorny personal problem, and over much coffee at a “neutral” Starbucks, he provided me with all I needed to fully confront and eventually overcome my dilemma. And I also prayed that Ruth Bader Ginsburg might look down with a smile and her own prayer for my niece Diane, an attorney whose nomination for a judgeship in New York’s Eastern Federal District is currently awaiting confirmation!