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A Eulogy for Rabbi Lynne Landsberg

A Eulogy for Rabbi Lynne Landsberg


This post is adapted from the eulogy given by Rabbi Daniel Zemel at the funeral service held at Temple Micah in Washington, DC on March 1, 2018. 

Right now, I feel that Isaiah is here, crying out: Who will stand in the breach and be the voice of conscience for my people? Devorah is here, the warrior who led Israel into the valley to do battle. Who today without Lynne has such ferocity of spirit and courage? 

But right now mostly I am thinking of Sarah. Banish the term matriarch from your mind and think of Sarah as the ancient rabbis did, glowing, beautiful, even --dare I say it-- seductive.  This Sarah is looking on as she considers the heir she has lost in Lynne Landsberg. 

Lynne was dazzling. Chic, Cool, Charismatic.

Lynne became the face of women rabbis. When the Today Show wanted to do a feature story on the then still new phenomena of women in the rabbinate who got sent? Rabbi Lynne Landsberg. Who was the rabbi featured in Cosmopolitan Magazine? Was there ever a moment's hesitation or another choice? 

The thing is, Lynne was the total package. Her sense of humor was second to none. She was bright, perceptive, motivated, passionate and just about the kindest, gentlest, tender hearted person there ever was.  She was a fierce lion for social justice but she was also the most caring friend  and the one who was always looking out for the person who would otherwise be overlooked. Lynne cared about every person no matter their rung on the ladder of so-called conventional society.  Lynne Landsberg in this regard was about standing conventional society on its head in every way.  

In this, Lynne was a Torah scholar--she knew that the mighty and meek alike were descended from Adam and Eve. She talked and cared for every server, custodian, clerk, or attendant.   

I don't exactly remember when I first met Lynne. She was two years behind me in rabbinical school. I do remember that she became close friends with my very close friend, classmate and next door neighbor on the upper west side, Bonnie Steinberg.   

Lynne was a very fashionable dresser. As my classmate Dan Alexander noted when he wrote to Lynne, "You were one of the very attractive women a couple of classes behind me, always dressed impeccably, often stylish but never ostentatious." Lynne used to tease me that I thought of her as the Bloomingdales rabbi. I do remember she and Bonnie going off to Bloomingdales to go shopping while I sat in that godawful library in the old HUC building on 68th Street. 

Lynne had this wickedly delightful sense of humor. After the brutal luncheon critique that followed my senior sermon where my choice of neck tie had been criticized by a faculty member, Lynne approached me and quietly asked if I wished to accompany her to Bloomingdales some time where she could pick me out a new neck tie. That was Lynne. 

Each one of us has our own Lynne stories.   

With Lynne it could be the little things that were so hilarious. Visiting Lynne in the 1980s in her office at the RAC. As you all know she worked in that building for many years--both as the mid-Atlantic regional director and as associate director of the Religious Action Center itself.  It doesn't matter-- what was most visible in Lynne's office were boxes of SlimFast for which she was a great advocate.    

Later in those days, months after the accident, after Lynne was back living at home, I would go to have lunch with Lynne almost every Friday. I would bring her the same lunch that she requested, from Burger King: a whopper with cheese.   

This is one way that I think about Lynne that I would tell her later on--From SlimFast to Burger King. But those lunch menu preferences were a kind of metaphor for who Lynne was--never a moderate centrist--Lynne's passion drove her in everything.  Later in life when I learned that SlimFast founder, S. Daniel Abraham was one of the great financial supporters of progressive Zionism, I came to understand more about one of Lynne's food tastes.  I am still wondering what Lynne knew about Burger King that remains a secret. 

Lynne's personality was indomitable.  How do we capture that this afternoon?  More than that-- How do we etch a bit of Lynne into our souls so that she remains an enduring guiding beacon in our lives? 

That was the question about which I wondered as I sat yesterday afternoon with those people that knew her best and loved her most.

The Lynne stories unfolded non-stop--the quips, the highs, the lows.  Lynne's wisdom and humor and instinct for people were all one.  A few examples- 

Lynne on the phone these last few months: "I'm dying--how are you... only kidding--I am dying." or, Lynne when put on hold:  "Don't worry--I have a little time.

Or Lynne calling to a friend in California to make inquiry about how they are doing after the fires and mud slides, at the end of the conversation, saying: "By the way, did you hear that I have stage 4 cancer?" 

There was general agreement around the table yesterday that Lynne was a force of nature-a very special phenomena. Her persona in the family exhibited itself from the time she was very young, organizing musical performances at family parties, Lynne playing the flute. Or later, organizing a Passover seder as a theatrical production. One family member said that becoming a rabbi was a natural for Lynne. It combined her social conscience, her people skills, her love of fun and her passion for Judaism. 

Several years ago I read a line in a wonderful book by Arial Sabar, a line that has stayed with me, that haunts me and guides me. Arial wrote My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Family's Past.  The line that has stayed with me is:

"We are who we come from as much as what we make of ourselves."   

How Lynne became Lynne: Her smarts, she was born with a good brain. Her beauty and knock out smile, mere physical traits. But where did that generosity come from, that passion for justice, that instinct for people, that remarkable resiliency, that strength. What was that?  How was that?   

Her mother, Bobbie had a passion for social justice.  Bobbie Landsberg was, for anyone who met her for even a split second, a larger than life presence, a formidable person. Her father, Gil, was simply the warmest and most generous person that anyone had ever known. He treated his business employees like family. 

Lynne absorbed the best of both parents. 

(By the way, when working as a high school student in the family business Lynne was proud to say that she got fired many times. Or when asked how she rose so high in the business, she would say: "Start in the sample department and end up the bosses daughter.")

But from her parents Lynne learned to not only talk the talk, but to walk the walk, and this she did in every possible avenue of her life.  On every highway and byway, every cause, every need, Lynne walked the walk. 

At one point in our conversation, Jonathan said, there are two Lynne stories, and although the two stories are one, we have to recognize that there are two: before the accident and after the accident. 

Rabbi Shelly Zimmerman, a dear friend and early mentor of Lynne's wrote me this week when I reached out to him at Lynne's suggestion (And here is the time to say this: this service is entirely and I mean entirely choreographed by Lynne as I took notes sitting on her bed in Staunton just a couple of weeks ago). Shelley wrote me: "She took a tragedy and used it to teach all of us, and to face injustice and unfairness directly and with prophetic strength!" 

I remember those days, those painful days at Georgetown Hospital and then at the National Rehabilitation Hospital. Lynne's strength and courage shone through, but there were moments of humor, too. I remember after securing the services of Bob Bennett to be Lynne's lawyer in the action against the city, Michael quipped, "Lynne would love knowing that she has Clinton's lawyer." 

I loved having Lynne as a member of Temple Micah. She was my greatest cheerleader and fan and friend - and critic. There is something very special about having a wondrous colleague as a member of your synagogue. She actually told me to say in these remarks that she was so happy that my daughter Shira's employment at the RAC inspired me to finally actively participate in a RAC program. Lynne was literally ecstatic when I told her that I was teaching a RAC session at the last Biennial.  

Services like this are so hard to end. Remarks like these are so hard to end. We know that we have to face a world made dimmer by the loss of a bright shining star.  

I thought this week about a phrase in Torah, in Leviticus (21:10) concerning the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. The text reads: Ha-Kohen Hagadol May-Echav, "The high priest from his brothers." What does that mean? The Talmud comments on this particular phrase (Yoma 18a). The Talmud says that the High Priest was to be "the priest who was greater than his fellow priests." How else can we remember Lynne, the most superlative one in so many ways, the one who had the most to give, and the one who gave the most. Lynne gave us more than we could ever receive and now we are left to use what she gave us as a way to honor her memory. 

We mourn together as we say- 

Shalom la afra 

Shalom l'nafsha 

May God's sweet peace rest with Rabbi Lynne Landsberg's beautiful soul. Amen.

Rabbi Daniel G. Zemel is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Micah in Washington, D.C. 

Published: 3/02/2018