Baruch dayan haemet (blessed be the true judge).
Earlier this week, the death of Leonard “Leibel” Fein was announced. Much has been said about Leibel Fein, and his many accomplishments, by many who knew him, and can speak from personal experience of him. I am not one of those people. I met, heard, and briefly spoke to him only once, when he addressed those attending the Kavod v’Nichum 11th annual Conference, held in June in Philadelphia in 2012.
As one who attended that presentation, it was (and is) my feeling that Kavod v’Nichum was fortunate to have Leibel Fein agree to be a speaker to those involved with Chevrah Kadisha & cemetery matters. His remarks that evening were an extension growing out of what he had said in the book he had written about the loss of his daughter, Against the Dying of the Light: A Parent’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope. He spoke from his own experience and feelings, and it was very much a personal reflection in his own voice, yet it was completely appropriate and meaningful, and it felt as if it were addressed directly to the audience at the conference. He was able to draw on his memories, his experiences, and his pain, and make it relevant and relatable and meaningful to those of us who were there in the room with him. It was powerful, moving, and inspirational.
He spoke of mourning and comfort, and shared a story of several persons who came to perform the mitzvah of nichum aveilim (comforting the mourners) when his daughter had died, and about one who was notable for doing this particularly well. Leibel Fein went on to talk about his thoughts on why and how this person had been especially comforting, and how much it had meant to him.
He then spoke to those at the conference directly, expressing his admiration and respect for the members of the Chevrah Kadisha and those who take on related tasks, for the work they do and the way it strengthens the fabric of the Jewish community, and how it had been a comfort to him to know that the Chevrah Kadisha had been there for his daughter, to treat her with absolute kavod (honor).
It was quite extraordinary: he took his pain and used it to honor those who are involved in the work of kavod v’nichum (honoring the deceased and comforting the bereaved), the work from which the organization Kavod v’Nichum takes it name.
A short time later he posted an entry in The Forward Forum at The Jewish Daily Forward titled A Blessing at the End based on those remarks, and I recommend that you read the article.
So, among all the voices that have and will elegantly mourn and praise Leibel Fein, I am able to add only a few words about a passing encounter, but one that left a mark on me and others. That speaks to the stature and the impact of the man who has died, and I feel a loss at his passing, along with all those who had so many more reasons to mourn him. May the One who comforts comfort the mourners, and may his memory be for a blessing.