As we celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday, it seems appropriate to recognize two of the fathers of New Jersey’s Jewish community we lost within the past two weeks, Lionel “Lonny” Kaplan and Howard Kiesel.
Kaplan, who died on June 3, was 69. He served in many positions for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), including co-chair (with his wife, Gail) of the Princeton-Mercer-Bucks (PMB) chapter and a member of its executive committee. He went on to national positions with AIPAC, from development chair to president, and finally chairman of the board. Lonny was also heavily involved in the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) National Young Leadership Cabinet, was president and chair of the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, and a board member of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations.
Kiesel, 89, died on June 11 (see obituary on page 17) and held a variety of leadership roles within the Jewish community. He was a member of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and of the boards of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and the NJ Healthcare Foundation. He was also vice president of the Hebrew Free Loan Association and a past president of the Jewish Historical Society of NJ. He spoke last month at its gala dinner honoring a Greater Metro-West leader, Hal Braff.
Just as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah built the foundation for the Jewish tradition, Kaplan and Kiesel did the same for their communities, and their loss will be acutely felt by us all. We wonder who will be the leaders — the fathers and mothers — for the next generation, the individuals who will step up and build on the hard work of Kaplan, Kiesel, and countless others?
We’ve all seen the data indicating that Jewish affiliation has taken a nosedive among young people. Notably, the 2013 Pew Report showed that of Jews born after 1980 (millennials), 32 percent identify as having no religion. As the number of affiliated Jewish youths continues to dwindle, how will that impact those taking on leadership roles vacated by their forebears?
The losses we’ve felt the last two weeks should remind the fathers and mothers among us that not only do we need to consistently emphasize the cultural and religious aspects of Judaism to our children, but we must also educate them on the importance of activism. We should encourage them from an early age to understand that Jewish communal life will cease to exist within a few generations unless we and they make a commitment to keep it alive.
Thankfully, within Greater MetroWest we have many examples of volunteer leaders who are devoted to the perpetuation and vibrancy of our community. Several of them were honored last week at the federation’s annual meeting (see page 16). Notably, Leslie Dannin Rosenthal was honored for her three-year tenure as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. Equally important were the awards presented to young leaders Lisa Buber and Alan Schall.
On the national level, organizations like Birthright Israel have invigorated Zionism among young people. That enthusiasm and sense of commitment will be needed to ensure the continuity of our collective efforts. In essence, we have to turn that love into action. And who will take up the mantle of tikkun olam and the crucial social services Jews have provided to our own people, as well as to others, if we don’t encourage our children to adopt this Jewish value?
No doubt there is a deep void left by the deaths of leaders like Lonny Kaplan and Howard Kiesel, may their memories be a blessing. All the more reason why we must transmit to the young women and men of the next generation that they are the future of American Judaism — and it’s up to them to ensure it continues for many generations to come.