Celebrating a Life Well Lived - Honoring the Legacy of Rabbi Lynne Landsberg

Celebrating a Life Well Lived - Lynne Landsberg; Removing the Stumbling Block

I haven’t written in a while. 

It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say.

It’s more that I hadn’t quite figured out how to put what I want to say into words.

February was, once again, Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. It remains, in its tenth year, an opportunity to raise up an issue that matters and spur to action those who might otherwise remain inert. But as the month drew to a close, we lost one of our own. We lost an incredible woman, teacher, friend, and rabbi, one so deeply committed to the inclusion of people with disabilities in our Jewish world and in all aspects of society. On February 26, Rabbi Lynne Landsberg lost a struggle with cancer at the age of 66.

Her story is truly an incredible one. It is an example of a life well lived. And quite frankly, I wouldn’t do it justice myself. Better that you read some of the exceptional tributes:

Lynne Landsberg, rabbi who sought a place for those with disabilities, dies at 66

She fought for rights of the disabled, then was disabled in a car crash. It didn’t stop her.

Lessons for living: Remembering a Staunton rabbi

But even as I defer to articles like these to tell Lynne’s story, and send my heartfelt condolences to her family and friends who knew her longer and loved her deeply, I, too, feel this loss keenly.

Lynne was my friend, and I miss her already. 

This is my story:

In 2008 I received a phone call from a rabbi I had never met. She introduced herself as Rabbi Lynne Landsberg and we spoke briefly. She shared that she had learned of the work that I was doing in my congregational school in the area of disability inclusion and that others needed to know about it, too. She then shared that she was scheduled to speak at an upcoming regional conference near me in New Jersey and that they had given her 30 minutes to offer her keynote. “So I will speak for 20 minutes and give you the other 10, ok?” 

After that call I learned more about Lynne, her story, and her current role as the Senior Advisor on Disability at the Religious Action Center. And I learned that you didn’t say no to Lynne. No one did. 

I am so very grateful that she “found” me and that I had the opportunity to present with her.

The gifts that I have received from Lynne are numerous. She gave me a chance to share my work and my passion for disability inclusion more broadly. She included me in each of her efforts, pushing me to take on more significant roles on planning committees and task forces. She taught me that perseverance is to be admired, and that there is a graceful way to never take no for an answer. She inspired me to work harder, push boundaries, and never forget to laugh.

At her funeral it was shared that Lynne collected people the way most others collect things. While others amass knick knacks and trinkets, Lynne cultivated relationships. I am so blessed to have been a part of Lynne’s collection.

I think that it is no coincidence that not only was her funeral on Purim (many made reference to how apropos of Lynne this truly was), but that it was on March 1. As Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month ends each year, I feel wary that some will mark it off their list as a task completed. But the inclusion of people of all abilities must be something that we discuss, advocate for, and make a reality all year long. We must bring this piece of Lynne’s legacy forward.

After a very long day of train travel from New Jersey to be present at the funeral in Washington DC, I arrived home late at night and shared the following with my son:

“We should all strive to live a life so significant that the David Saperstein of our world offers a eulogy at our funeral and is barely able to get to the end without crying.”

Thank you, Lynne. I miss you.

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