He is best known for his groundbreaking contributions to American Jewish life, including Moment Magazine, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy. He also served as the Director of the Commission on Social Action of the Reform movement and wrote extensively for the Forward and many other publications.
We, however, knew of his greatness even before those accomplishments, because “our” Leibel grew up in the Habonim Labor Zionist youth movement and never tired of reminding others of his background. Beginning as a camper in 1945 at Camp Moshava in Maryland, continuing as a participant in the Habonim Workshop, the movement’s gap year program, and serving as Camp Director at Midwest Camp Habonim, Leibel often referred to these building blocks of his progressive Jewish identity, including recently in the Huffington Post.
More than once, I heard him tell the story of learning of the bombing of Hiroshima while at camp and remembering that it was the first time he entered into an “adult political conversation” due to the way it was handled that day by the counselors. At conferences we attended together in the Jewish community, he would often comment on the number of Habonim Dror alumni among the speakers and attendees.
Serving on the Ameinu national Board of Directors with Leibel, I had the opportunity to experience his combined “Thinker-Doer” mentality. As we planned the launch of our The Third Narrative project, we discussed the importance of having strong content on the website from day one. Leibel was thrilled with the new vehicle to amplify the progressive Zionist voice, and he facilitated the cross-posting of a series of articles on Liberal Zionism he organized for the Huffington Post earlier that year. At a recent board meeting discussion on our youth and young adult engagement programs, he was the oldest participant but also the most active in quizzing the twenty somethings on what will attract their cohort to the organization.
When Ameinu honored Leibel in 2009 with our Dreamers and Builders Award, I said in my comments: “Leibel, you represent the ideal of Dugma Ishit, setting a personal example and serving as a role model for me. Your commitment to innovation, to not always writing the popular ideas, to tilting at windmills, is an inspiration to me and many others.”
May his memory be a blessing and inspiration to his family, friends and generations to come.