‘Every little thing you do adds up’
By Deb Silverthorn
Rabbi Jeffrey Leynor, longtime rabbi at Congregation Beth Torah and more recently at Beth El Binah, died on Sept. 16 at age 67.
Descended from a long line of rabbis, Leynor took a different path before committing to the rabbinate, as a singer and acoustic guitarist in a rock ‘n’ roll band. “Every little thing you do adds up,” he wrote and sang on his album “Pebble in the Pond.” And indeed, every little thing he did added up, according to the many family members and friends he left behind.
Rabbi Leynor leaves two children, Keri and Perry, from his first marriage to Barbara, and son Austin Clar, whom he gained by marrying his beloved Karen, of blessed memory.
“My dad told us every single day how much he loved us and how much he believed in us,” said Perry. “He was our biggest supporter and it wasn’t just ‘Dad talk.’ His very best qualities were how he always listened, and how he was always there.”
Keri, now a teacher, recalls her father visiting her own class when she was a child during Beth Torah’s Torah Time. She recalls him putting his hand on her head, and her dad, she says, always had the words to help others through life, and through grief.
“He showed the world to us through a different lens,” she said. “He had no filter, and he was raw 100%, always letting you know exactly how he felt. No matter what race, or religion … no matter who a person was, he was there in the moments he was needed.”
That philosophy of presence resonated throughout his career, and especially in recent months as the pandemic disrupted familiar and comforting patterns of community.
“Judaism is a ‘we’ religion, not a ‘me’ religion, and despite this pandemic, we must find ways to be together to pray and to learn, to celebrate, to comfort and to mourn,” Rabbi Leynor told the Texas Jewish Post just three months ago.“We are social creatures, and we need one another.”
Born in Newark, New Jersey, March 19, 1953, Leynor grew up in South Orange as the third child of Evelyn, a social worker, and Phillip, a doctor, both of blessed memory, and the brother of Brenna and Neal (Linda).
“The Talmud teaches us that if you save a life, you save the world,” said Neal. “Through his character, empathy and deeds, our brother saved so many.”
Brenna recalls being protective of her baby brother from the moment he came home from the hospital. “In many ways he was mine and he always will be and I was lucky to be his sister.”
After one year as a pre-med student at Hiram College in Ohio, where Leynor began studies to become a doctor, he reconnected with Jimmy Brown and other high school friends and The Stanky Brown Group was born. With Leynor singing and on acoustic guitar, the rock and roll band recorded three Billboard-charting albums and toured the country opening for headliners including The Eagles, Jefferson Starship, The Beach Boys and The Doobie Brothers.
Once the band members made the decision to part ways professionally, while remaining friends, Leynor, who, according to his family, hailed from a long line of rabbis dating back to Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, followed the family line to serve community by becoming a rabbi.
He graduated from Rutgers University, and then the Jewish Theological Seminary, before making Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson his first pulpit in 1989, a position he held for 16 years. There he formed relationships and presided over the lifecycle events of a generation.
“It was an honor to be loved by him as his children but we’ve seen from more than 1,000 notes and calls, what we probably already knew, that he’d made his way into the hearts and souls of so many,” said Austin. “He really, really mattered to so many.”
In 2005, Rabbi Leynor became the first full-time rabbi at Congregation Beth El Binah in Dallas, where, for five years, he brought his spirit, music and sense of humor to the bimah.
“Rabbi Leynor excelled at one-to-one counseling and helped so many people through difficult situations,” said Diane Litke, Beth El Binah’s former president and current board member. “He helped build our membership, brought music to the forefront of our prayers and really rejuvenated the connection between us all.”
The go-to rabbi who officiated at the marriages of many LGBTQ and interfaith couples, Rabbi Leynor taught classes throughout the community, many for the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center. He assisted more than 500 individuals through the conversion process.
In addition to his pulpit duties, he served the greater community for nearly three decades in chaplain roles, including the Plano police and fire auxiliary departments and as the Dallas Police Department victim chaplain. A member of the International Conference of Police Chaplains, he was a pastoral care specialist, suicide intervention trainer, post-traumatic stress disorder debriefer and bereavement counselor.
“Jeffrey was a great listener and a very compassionate man. We had lots of laughs and many serious talks,” said Plano Police and Fire Chaplain Robert Matthews. “I worked with Rabbi Leynor for 29 years, I shared a Seder at his home and participated in Purim services too. We shared our lives and he shared some of the best of himself with citizens who needed him in most difficult times.”
Also serving as chaplain at The Legacy at Home during the past six months, Rabbi Leynor had made Zoom his friend, turning his on-site visits into virtual ones, always present for patients and their families.
“Rabbi Leynor had experienced great grief but that drove him to serve from a deep well of understanding and compassion,” said Rabbi Michael Cohen, director of rabbinical services and programs at The Legacy Senior Communities. “I’m truly sorry to have lost a great colleague and our community, a dear friend.”
Rabbi Leynor was remembered at funeral services on Friday, Sept. 18, led by Congregation Beth Torah’s Rabbi Elana Zelony and his children. His sons joined Anthony Harris, Justin Isbell, Plano Public Safety Officer Richard Krupka, Justin Leynor, Jeff Markowitz and James Wesley Shoemaker as pallbearers.
“When we say ‘may their memory be for a blessing,’ I think we’re taking in mind that we will not only remember them in our minds, but take charitable action in their honor, that we will tangibly do something to make the world a better place to honor them,” said Austin.
“His last text to me reads ‘it will be, as it should.’ With the kriya, the tearing of our garments or black ribbon, we say ‘dayan ha emet,’ the ‘true judge.’ While we may feel the loss to be unjust, unfair, premature, not supposed to happen, things happen for a reason and we trust and know Hashem is not arbitrary, that the Shechina’s path is one of lovingkindness. It will be as it should,” added Austin.