It would be hard to overestimate the impact of Leonard Fein on American Jewry – and on this writer.
Leonard – Leibel as he was known to intimates, which sadly I was not – died last week at 80.
He was an example of how one man could, again and again, create something to meet an obvious need in the Jewish community that nobody else had noticed with an innovation no one else had thought to invent.
It was nearly 40 years ago that, together with Elie Wiesel, he launched Moment Magazine. His hope was to bring the New Yorker’s literary sensibility to Jewish affairs. He generated a communal conversation while cultivating fine Jewish journalism – and casting a spotlight on important Israeli writers and thinkers.
More than I could have realized at the time, my parents’ subscription to Leonard Fein’s Moment, which I read as an adolescent, shaped my notion of what it means to be an American Jew and to be part of the American Jewish conversation.
In 1987, Leibel sold the never-profitable magazine to another entrepreneur – and we all have missed the old Moment ever since.
Leibel picked up his pen again regularly in 1990, when he became a columnist for the revived Forward, and he was writing until the end.
But all his editing and writing was just one piece in a life that included teaching political science at Boston universities and writing books on American Jewry.
He created Mazon, the Jewish food charity to which we regularly and proudly donate advertising space.
That was in 1985. He had just turned 50.
In 1996 he created the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy. Our own Bergen Reads is part of that effort. So while Leibel’s memory will inspire us in many ways, the most public and appropriate would be this: Think about volunteering for Bergen Reads. Just an hour a week of tutoring can change the life of child – and yours as well.
Now is the perfect time to volunteer and make plans for the soon to begin school year.
Call Beth Figman at (201) 820-3947, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell her Leibel sent you.