(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
I was privileged and honored to know Leon Charney, who passed away this week, for over 35 years. He was a true role model, in more ways than one. This was a man who accomplished much in his lifetime, but due to his humility, did not broadcast it.
Most noteworthy, perhaps, were his midot tovot (positive character traits).
Leon was the antithesis of a braggart. With all that he had accomplished in the business world (a successful attorney who transitioned into a major Midtown Manhattan landlord; ranking among the Forbes 400); a media personality (host of the TV show The Leon Charney Report); a political player (few are aware of the role he played on back channel for president Jimmy Carter during the negotiation of the Camp David Accords with Egypt) both in the United States and in Israel (a confidant of president Ezer Weizman, among others), he was not one to toot his own horn.
As Israel struggles with hasbara/projecting a positive image to the international public – one can only hope that government officials take note of all the things Leon accomplished for Jews in general, and the State of Israel in particular, with his Leon Charney Report. If that show was existent today, along with many others like it, we would have the antidote to BDS well in hand.
I must also make note of Leon as a ba’al tzedaka – a truly charitable man. It would take a large space to list all the organizations, all the educational institutions he supported both in Israel and the United States. I was privileged to attend the naming of the Leon Charney School of Marine Sciences at the University of Haifa (where he had previously served as chairman of the board of governors), to cite but one example.
Another example of his charitableness touched me on a personal level. Through a mutual friend, Leon heard that I say kaddish three times a day for people who do not have a close relative to do so. When his mother passed away, Leon asked me to do so. I agreed. I explained to him that I did so on a gratis basis; saying kaddish to me was strictly to bring honor to the departed. However, at the end of the year, I received a sizable check from Leon, to be made out to the charity of my choice. He was adamant; he would not accept “no” from me.
The nation of Israel is supposed to be a light unto the nations; Leon, may his soul rest in eternal peace, was the epitome of that light.