A priest and a rabbi: Eulogy for Leonard I. Beerman

A Rabbi and a Priest: Leonard Beerman was my closest friend for 47 years. I will miss Leonard, in the deepest places of my being.
January 6, 2015

A Rabbi and a Priest: Leonard Beerman was my closest friend for 47 years.  I will miss Leonard, in the deepest places of my being.

I met Rabbi Leonard Beerman in 1967 where both of us were speaking at a Peace Rally at MacArthur Park opposing the war in Vietnam.  From that day Leonard and I have been the closest of friends, travelling the world on peace missions, and collaborating on many important interfaith projects.

I am 84 and Leonard was 93 and he always demanded that I pay him the appropriate respect as my senior.  I realize neither of us looked our age!

A Jew and a Christian – a Rabbi and a Priest – and closet of friends.

I treasure this more than I could ever express.  I don’t think I could have survived for nearly 30 years at All Saints Church in Pasadena, without Leonard’s guidance, love and companionship.  I made Leonard “Rabbi-in-Residence” at All Saints and Ed Bacon, my successor, has continued this tradition.  Unquestionably, Leonard was by far All Saints’ most popular and most dearly loved speaker. 

I believe there is more truth in all religions put together than there is in any one of them alone – and this includes Christianity.  Leonard Beerman, the great Muslim leader Maher Hathout, who recently died, and George Regas – not the holy trinity – but we’ve done some good work together.  I treasure this in the deepest places of my being.

What a privilege it was to travel this world with the companionship of Rabbi Beerman.  Many years ago Mary Regas and I were planning one of our Peace trips and Leonard was to go with us; but all of a sudden he said he could not go.  I responded, “What in the world does that mean?”  He said,  “I’m in love, I’m in love.”  So when they were married Leonard and Joan Beerman, Mary Regas and I went to Russia together.  What a magnificent trip it was.  Over the years, the four of us grew the deepest friendships; a strong bond of love and commitment to peace bound us together.  If Leonard were still alive, he would want us to deepen that bond of commitment in the years to come.

What Leonard, and so many of us, finally came to terms with is the religious life is not about certainties.  It is about our struggles with doubt.  It is about trust – trust in the goodness of Creation, and the mercy of the Creator.

With so much religious fundamentalism here and throughout the world – many think skepticism and doubt disqualify us from full life with the Divine Creator.

Don’t believe it.  The noblest faith comes out of struggle.  A faith that has no doubts and refuses honest questions has little strength.  No one really possesses vital faith without fighting for it.  That was Rabbi Leonard Beerman’s story.

The desire for certainty is deep in us.  Resist it.  It is the corruption of religion.

A life-giving religion is probing, questioning, believing.  At the deepest levels, doubt walks hand in hand with belief.

I love what Rollo May wrote:  “The most creative people neither ignore doubt nor are paralyzed by it.  They explore it, admit it and act despite it.  Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt but in spite of it.”

That’s the spiritual life I saw in Rabbi Leonard Beerman.

I give God thanks for Leonard’s faith.  He was always on the journey into the light.

Leonard never let me forget, however, that he was a skeptic.  He struggled with lots of doubt.  “George, I’m an agnostic on some of the stuff of religion, some of those beautiful things you proclaim, at All Saints Church; but I’m on the journey.”  I celebrated Leonard’s skepticism, for I knew it was the only way he could to make his way into the Divine.

Dostoevsky said, “My hosanna’s have been forged in the crucible of doubt.”

Leo Baeck Temple is a community of faith – but it is not a place where they disallow searching questions and troubling doubts.  A theology that has a prefabricated answer for everything is unbearable.

I believe Leonard sensed that the spiritual power back of this great creation he loved and served would treat him well in death.

It is a great mystery – death and God and eternity.  But at the center of my belief, and the belief that sustained Rabbi Leonard Beerman, is this:        

         God’s love holds us

         God’s mercy embraces us

         And nothing, nothing can separate us from God’s love.

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