Remembering Leonard Goldstein – when a life exceeds the sum of its parts.

I have always said that I write these pages not because of any great impact it will have, or that I have delusions of being an especially insightful writer. Rather, it is something I must do. I expect no great readership of these pages, and the lack thereof is liberating because it affords me great latitude to write topics of my own discretion. All my writings are unapologetically of personal privilege, and this one is more personal than most.

Leonard M. Goldstein physically departed this world April 20, 2018, but his essence, his spirit lives on, and he is an indelible inspiration to all people unwilling to accept the injustices they see around them. I think Len viewed social injustice through a monochromatic lens. Some issues, especially issues of justice, are black and white. He never demonstrated any equivocation or hesitation to take a well-reasoned and principled position on any subject.

His partner in the relentless quest for social justice was his wife of more than 70 years, Rikki. There simply are not enough superlatives to describe the contributions this couple made to their community and to society. For those who may not know them well, I’ve included an article from the Fort Wayne News Sentinel at the end of this posting that offers high lights of their contributions. Most people who read the article are humbled.

ACLU photo

“Judaism: The Religion Of Action”

Many people may hold well formulated ideas, but what was special about Len was that he understood thoughts without action would never affect change. I think he would have agreed with Rabbi Ellen Bernhardt when she wrote, “We have been taught that when we are confronted with challenges, we don’t just sigh and resign ourselves to a terrible situation; we must be spurred on to action. Judaism is the religion of action, naasaeh v’nishmah—we will do and we will listen. Not only must we rise up and make our voices heard but we must be cognizant of creating advocates in the next generation and the next.”[1]

In February 2015, Len was quoted in the Congregation Achduth Vesholom Temple bulletin saying “I’ve always felt Judaism is based on justice. Injustice always raised my ire. I could write every day. Rikki calls me ‘the last angry man.’” [2] The same article also clearly identified what drove him to be such a prolific writer and social activist when it stated that “Len said he feels everyone should try this effort at tikkun olam, ‘repairing the world.’ When someone tells me they liked my letter, I thank them and say ‘why don’t you write?’ That’s why we have the politicians we have today because people don’t write.”

No subject off limits

That call to action, to write, to express opinions is as important today as it was when Len wrote his first letter to the editor in 1948 about a local judge who made anti-feminist remarks about women “trolling on the street.” Yes, clearly, he was ahead of his time and that was one of the things that made him special. Who would have expected a man living in Indiana to publicly express a feminist position in 1948?

I don’t think Len would look at that as anything remarkable –his ire was raised and the only thing he could do was to take the judge to task in a public forum. No big deal – for him. I suspect others at the time may have thought the judge’s comments were ill-advised, but I wonder how many took the time to express their opinion. It’s the same today. People may be annoyed by an event, and in some cases may even send a 280 character Tweet. That’s all well and good, but what society needs are more people like Len. People who go beyond superficial social media postings and actually write thoughtful articles that may actually persuade a person to reconsider their position on a topic.

Stimulus-Response

It would be fair to judge Len on the eloquence of his writings, but I think an even better metric of his success is to consider the responses they elicited. To be clear, not everyone agreed with his views and were eager to offer their criticism. But that’s truly the point of his success in life. He was establishing a dialog outside of his own circle of like-minded friends. Breaking out of one’s information cocoon is the only way our society can begin to depolarize.

I feel compelled to offer an example. Keep in mind that Len was 97 when he passed away and less than three weeks before his passing, his letter to the editor of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette titled “NRA has morphed into gun-industry front” was published.[3] As was so often was the case, a week letter a response to Len’s letter was published by a proponent of the NRA.[4] I have no idea if Len saw the response, but it made me smile to think that at 97 years old, his ire could still be raised enough to write a letter that pissed off an NRA zealot. Well done, Len. Well done.

Do not go gentle into that good night

The poem by Dylan Thomas comes to mind when I think about Len, but not because of the literal interpretation about approaching death in old age. What really made me think of the poem and Len is that it is a metaphor for how Len lived his entire life. His life was not lived gently, but with a rage against injustice. No, he did not go gentle into that good night, but more significantly, he did not go gentle through his good life – he lived it with passion, conviction, and an indefatigable commitment to lending his voice to make the lives of others and society better.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Ripple effect

So enough of that part of Len. I suspect if he were here to read this he would admonish me to stop wasting my time writing about him and write about something more important. What he probably doesn’t know is that he served as an inspiration to me to also make my voice heard. I write this blog, I write weekly to my Senators and representative, I pay my ACLU dues, and yes, I do succumb to an occasional tweet. I do it for the same reason as he did. I simply can’t sit on the sidelines and not express an opinion. I know I’ve never been as effective in my writing as Len, but I’m sure he would say that’s not the point. The point is simply to make the effort to be engaged in the world. Only through engagement and action will change occur. We can not let Len truly be “the last angry man.”

More than a writer

And since this is unambiguously an article of personal privilege, let me just say it was a pleasure to have known the man beyond his writings. I remember vividly the days of walking with him as he played golf at Manzanillo, Ka’anapali, or the Fort Wayne Country Club. It was a peaceful time. It was especially for me since I was unencumbered by the inevitable frustration of trying to hit that little ball. I will also remember him as the person who taught me that the only proper way to store vodka is in the freezer. Yes, I learned many things from the man – large and small.

In the 2015 temple bulletin, Len said he would like his epitaph someday to read:

“I hope I made a difference.”

Yes, Len – Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

Kaanapali

Golf Course at Kaanapali

[1] “Judaism: The Religion Of Action” Jewish Voice – October 2017

[2] http://www.templecav.org/Portals/146/02%20February%20%20bulletin%202015.pdf

[3] http://www.journalgazette.net/opinion/letters/20180404/letters

[4] http://www.journalgazette.net/opinion/letters/20180415/letters-to-the-editor

 


References

Quest Club Papers

Len presented six papers from 1980 through 2005 at the Quest Club of Fort Wayne, Indiana (founded in 1911).

Leonard and Rikki Goldstein

2016-09-10 | The News-Sentinel

Sept. 10–Leonard and Rikki Goldstein both grew up in families where giving back to the community and to others was just part of what you do.

The Goldsteins carried that experience with them to Fort Wayne, where they have been active for decades in areas such as women’s rights, social justice, health, education, the arts and more.

“It basically has to do with our religion,” said Leonard, 96, noting justice is a basic belief of their Jewish faith.

He and Rikki, 91, will move soon to Carmel, north of Indianapolis, to be closer to family, but their impact in Fort Wayne will be felt for a long time to come.

“They are icons in the community, and the likes of them are not going to be seen too often,” said Ben Eisbart, a longtime community leader.

STARTING OUT

The Goldsteins, who met at Ohio State University in Columbus, moved to Fort Wayne in 1945, the same year they married.

Leonard, who was from Cleveland, had taken a job here at Platka Export. The company later went through two sales, the last one to Dana Corp. The death of a colleague pushed Leonard into the role of leading Dana’s international division.

He didn’t enjoy working for a large corporation, however, so he resigned a year or two later and started his own company, Midland Inc., which represented small and medium-sized companies trying to sell products overseas.

At the time, Rikki, who was from Sioux City, Iowa, was a stay-at-home mom, and they had two children in college and two children at home. Leonard’s business soon became successful, however, and he led it until some health problems prompted him to sell it about 22 years ago, he said.

GETTING INVOLVED

Rikki had been active in Parent Teacher Association and other activities at their children’s schools. After their youngest child started high school, she went to work.

She had helped found what is now the Women’s Bureau in 1976 and worked there for 20 years doing counseling and supervising programs that helped women re-enter the workforce after a divorce or death of a spouse.

“That whole 20 years, we were always doing something,” she said. “One of the most important was we got a federal grant to pay for women who were single parents to get a GED (high school-equivalency degree) or certificate degree in college. We helped a lot of women get enough education to get into the workforce.”

Rikki also helped organize and coordinate volunteer peer counselors, who worked with women who came to the Women’s Bureau, said Harriet Miller, a co-founder and the organization’s first director. Leonard helped the Women’s Bureau raise funds to create an endowment, and he coached Miller on how to approach potential large donors.

Always generous with their time and resources, the Goldsteins made a big difference in her life by being such wonderful role models, Miller said.

In 1996, at age 70, Rikki moved to Neighborhood Health Clinics in Fort Wayne, where she served as director of social work, outreach and other programs for 20 years before retiring in late August.

“As far as patients, she really related to them as people,” said Mary Haupert, Neighborhood Health Clinics president. “She tried to take them where they were … and say, ‘You can’t change where you are now, but you can take small steps to make things better.'”

Rikki, who speaks Spanish, also helped the nonprofit organization’s doctors and dentists by working with patients’ mental health and social issues, leaving the medical staff free to treat their health problems.

PASSION FOR JUSTICE

In the mid-1970s, Leonard served one term on the Fort Wayne Community Schools board of school trustees. As board president, he led the majority as they pushed FWCS to desegregate its schools.

That was “just a wonderful example of doing what is right,” said Eisbart, a former Fort Wayne City Council member and former FWCS board member.

Eisbart met the Goldsteins when he came to Fort Wayne in 1972 to lead what is now the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, and Leonard was on the organization’s board of directors.

Eisbart said he and Leonard both worked to help start the Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University in Bloomington, which has become one of the top programs of its kind in the country. The Goldsteins also were very generous in their giving to Jewish and other causes.

Leonard has stayed active on the Jewish Federation board and its Community Relations Council committee, said Jaki Schreier, the federation’s current executive director. He always is a resource of great ideas that are helpful and doable, Schreier said.

Leonard also has been involved for about 30 years with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana (ACLU), where he still is a board member. He called it “a natural thing for me” because of his strong passion for ensuring people receive just and fair treatment. That same passion also had made him a frequent contributor of newspaper letters to the editor and guest columns on justice and fairness topics.

Ken Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana, praised Leonard as a strong advocate for civil rights, and particularly for First Amendment protections guaranteeing separation of government and religion.

THE ARTS AND MORE

The Goldsteins also have been active in other areas of the community.

Rikki helped found the Fort Wayne Ballet and served on its board of directors. Leonard has served as board chairs at both Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. He also is a longtime member of the board and committees at The Phil.

Leonard had a real passion for the orchestra and led a very successful fund drive in the 1990s to boost the Phil’s endowment, said Eleanor Marine, a former Philharmonic board chair and a current board member. Marine described him as a friend who is a very graceful man who also can be forceful, and someone who “did the hard jobs with dignity and integrity.”

The Goldsteins both served on the board of directors of the local Planned Parenthood organization during its early years in Fort Wayne.

Rikki has served as chair of Fort Wayne’s Metropolitan Human Relations Commission, as a member of the Fort Wayne Board of Park Commissioners and as a speaker for the Panel of American Women, the latter of which provided panels of five women of diverse backgrounds to speak to various audiences about their lives.

The Goldsteins also have been active at Congregation Achduth Vesholom, the city’s Reform Jewish congregation, for more than 70 years, including each serving on its board of directors. The congregation planned to offer a special blessing for the couple at its Shabbat service Friday evening and to celebrate their longtime membership afterward.

Looking back, “I hope our being in the community made a difference,” Leonard said.

People who know and have worked with the Goldsteins answer unequivocally: Yes, it has.

More Information

Special recognitions

— Rikki and Leonard Goldstein each were presented Sagamore of the Wabash awards in 1994. The award is the highest honor the Indiana governor can give, and it typically is presented for distinguished service to the state or governor.

— Leonard is scheduled to be honored next month as one of the 2016 recipients of the Hoosier Jewish Legend — A Hall of Fame award from the Indiana Jewish Historical Society. The city’s two Jewish congregations, Achduth Vesholom and B’nai Jacob, joined with the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne to nominate him.

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