LOS ANGELES – Leonard Fein, a towering figure in Jewish progressive thought and action, died on Thursday morning, aged 80.
“Leibel,” as he was universally addressed, was a prolific writer, a professor at Brandeis University and the creator of organizations and institutions that have left a lasting imprint on Jewish and general community life.
He and Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California, founded MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, in 1987, headquartered in Los Angeles. The two men were friends for 40 years.
Schulweis recalled “many happy moments” with the man he knew as “a genuine idealist, a man of prophetic vision and integrity, who never calculated whether any of his actions would benefit him personally.”
Abby Leibman, the present CEO and president of MAZON, characterized Fein as “a true visionary who turned his visions into reality... His commitment to social justice extended to all, regardless of faith and nationality.”
In 1981, Fein was one of the founding members of Americans for Peace Now and continued as an active board member throughout his life.
APN released a statement that lauded Fein as “a combination of philosopher and reformer, organizer and agitator, truth-teller and joke-teller, irrepressible idealist and hardboiled realist and one of the finest men we have had the honor to know.”
Among his many other contributions and accomplishments, Fein, together with Elie Wiesel, founded Moment magazine in 1975, and in 1997, Fein set up the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy.
A companion in many of these endeavors, particularly MAZON and Americans for Peace Now, was Prof. Gerald Bubis of Los Angeles, a colleague of 50 years’ standing.
“Leibel was not afraid to speak up, challenge authority or confront the establishment, while relishing his role as a curmudgeon,” Bubis said. Despite personal family tragedies, Fein pursued his heavy schedule as speaker, writer and organizer, Bubis added.
Fein’s influence on thought leaders was multiplied through his frequent columns in The Forward, The New York Times, The New Republic, the Los Angeles Times and The Nation.