The passing of Daniel Drench April 5 brought back fond memories of a cherished friend and outstanding Jewish leader.
I came to know Dan back in the early 1980s when he assumed leadership of the “cluster,” a partnership of six NJ Jewish federations that worked together on behalf of the Project Renewal effort in the Canaan neighborhood of Safed. Project Renewal, a joint program of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, was dedicated to the rehabilitation of distressed neighborhoods in Israel. One of our first combined efforts was a weeklong fact-finding mission to Safed to learn firsthand the challenges facing the community. We consulted with local community members and government leaders in the beginning of a multiyear relationship with the people of the town. Dan led this effort with his trademark enthusiasm and attention to detail. He made sure the projects we commenced were accomplished, including the renovation of the community and old-age centers. Indeed, for a number of years, our subsequent missions to Israel always included a trip to Shikkun Canaan.
Dan helped forge a tight bond between the members of our cluster and the neighborhood folks in Canaan. His love of the people of Israel was always palpable.
For me personally, the mission had an added value. It introduced me to the warm-hearted side of an individual who was full of exuberance and generosity. Having learned that my wife Barbara and I had recently married and that she was visiting her sister in Jerusalem, Dan insisted we meet at the conclusion of our mission. That interest and concern continued for the next 30-plus years. We were privileged to host Dan and later his lovely wife, Barbara, at many of our family smahot. His personal notes on happy and sad occasions were always appreciated. Once he called me to say he and Barbara were going to Israel and wanted to meet our newly married daughter Hana and her husband, who were living in Jerusalem. That was Dan, always making the effort to keep in touch.
He followed my federation career, and when I chose to pursue other interests he sent me a wonderful note of encouragement. I always valued his sage advice and his inviting smile.
Jewish tradition reminds us that we should “makir tov,” recognize and express appreciation to one who offers assistance and kindness. Dan Drench was an individual who was more than thoughtful; he personified goodness. He loved Israel, his community, and the Jewish people. We are all the beneficiary of his devoted leadership. But for me, I will particularly remember Dan for his warmth, empathy, vivaciousness, ability to laugh, and genuine friendship.
“May his memory be for a blessing.”