Rabbi Leonard Beerman, known for political activism, dies


LOS ANGELES (Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles) — Rabbi Leonard Beerman, famed for his unremitting pacifism and fight against injustice, has died.

Beerman, who grew the 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. He was 93. His funeral was to be held Sunday at the Leo Baeck Temple.

“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,” said Rabbi Ken Chasen, the current senior rabbi of Leo Baeck Temple.

Beerman’s faith was bound to his activism. Over the years he used his pulpit to advocate for better wages for the working poor in the United States, racial equality and concern for the welfare of Palestinians.

Beerman also spearheaded congregational activism. He led community efforts to fight nuclear proliferation and refurbish housing on Los Angele’s Skid Row to provide decent accommodations for the poor.

“Rabbi Leonard Beerman refused to meet injustice with silent complicity,” Chasen said. “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.”

Born in Altoona, Pa., in 1921, Beerman was ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. He served in the U.S. 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.”

Beerman is survived by his wife, Joan Beerman, five children and six grandchildren, as well as a brother and a sister.

For more information, read the original version of this article that first appeared in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

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