In the brief holiday rest between the last night of Hanukkah and Christmas Day, America lost one of its greatest spiritual leaders. He was a champion of human rights, a friend to civil rights leaders and a humble sage who managed to work weddings and bar mitzvahs in between fiery sermons.

Word is beginning to spread among the community of those who knew him that Rabbi Leonard Beerman died Wednesday morning at the age of 93.

He came to Los Angeles in 1949 as the first rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple, which eventually found a home in posh Bel-Air. It was at the temple, at his late age, on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, that he told his gathered worshipers, “Our world needs troubled people. … Jews even. Men and women who care. Who are not ashamed to be sensitive and tender. … Who can resist all those, friends and enemies, who seek to prevent us from seeing the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls.”

Although the rabbi carried grenades through Jerusalem in his youth, he quickly became a pacifist and carried that message through his teachings with unrivaled consistency. That same sermon began, “Another Yom Kippur. … Another 500 children of Gaza killed by the Israel Defense Forces, with callous disregard for their lives.” Some in the crowd were alarmed, but in the end, the rabbi won a standing ovation. It was his first in 65 years.

Those quotes come from a wonderful profile in the Los Angeles Times. The paper reported that Beerman was often in terrible pain, but his mind remained sharp, his spirit humble, his words uncompromising.

The word for “hello” and “goodbye” in Hebrew is shalom. It also means “peace.” As we say goodbye to our favorite rabbi, we honor him by saying there was no greater champion of peace who walked this earth.

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer


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