Rabbi Leonard Beerman, known for pacifism and activism, dies

Marcy Oster

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Rabbi Leonard Beerman, famed for his unremitting pacifism and fight against injustice, has died.

Beerman, who grew the congregation of Leo Baeck Temple from a small community of 28 members when he arrived in 1949 into one of the most prominent synagogues in Los Angeles, died on Dec. 24 at the age of 93.

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“With his inimitable mixture of elegance and outrage, Rabbi Leonard Beerman taught by example how to build an unflinching life of courage and conscience.  He dreamed of humanity’s moral ascent and devoted his life to pursuing and inspiring it,” Rabbi Ken Chasen, the current senior rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple, said.

Beerman’s faith was bound to his activism. Over the years he used his lectern to speak fearlessly on controversial issues such as the exaggeration of the Communist scare, advocating for better wages for the working poor in the United States, racial equality, and concern for the lives and welfare of Palestinians, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles reported.

Beerman also spearheaded congregational activism. He led community efforts to fight nuclear proliferation and to refurbish skid row housing to provide decent living accommodations for the poor.
“Rabbi Leonard Beerman refused to meet injustice with silent complicity. Even when he felt called to take positions that he knew would be unpopular, he sensed a higher demand to serve as a witness to human suffering and to back up his impassioned words with principled action,” Chasen said.

Born in Altoona, Pa., in 1921, Beerman was ordained and received a master’s degree in Hebrew Letters from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. He served in the United States Marines during World War II. When fighting broke out in the new state of Israel after the 1947 United Nations vote in favor of partitioning Palestine into two independent states, Beerman, who was studying at Hebrew University, joined the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization.

In a 1997 interview, Beerman noted, “It was in the Haganah in which I served for about five months, I think, that I came more and more to believe that pacifism was a genuinely held conviction of mine.”

Rabbi Leonard Beerman is survived by his wife, Joan Beerman; five children and six grandchildren, as well as a brother and a sister. His funeral will be held on Dec. 28 at the Leo Baeck Temple.