January 28, 2020

L.A. Jewish Professionals Remember Leah Kitz

Leah Kitz

In 2012, longtime local Jewish professional Leah Kitz was honored by Jewish Family Services with the Shining Star Award for her volunteer work with Chaverim, a Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles-funded program providing services and support to developmentally disabled adults. A Federation blog post about the award reported that during her acceptance speech, Kitz quoted Pirkei Avot: “Do not separate yourself from the community.”

Kitz, a fixture in Jewish professional life, died unexpectedly in August. She was 42. On Nov. 17, 250 people gathered at the Lopaty Chapel at Valley Beth Shalom to honor Kitz’s work and community impact. Attendees came from a broad swath of Jewish organizations, including Federation, de Toledo High School and American Friends of the Hebrew University, where Kitz worked in development over the last two decades, and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), where she received dual master’s degrees from the Zelikow School and USC’s School of Social Work in 2004. There was also ample representation from Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California, whose Mark Meltzer Young Professional Award Kitz received in 2014.

Outside the chapel was a table with a guest book, flowers and a large photograph of Kitz, as well as cards announcing the creation of a special scholarship fund in her memory at the Zelikow School. The fund will provide stipends for Zelikow School students to attend conferences, participate in internships or partake in programming beyond HUC-JIR.

The memorial was led by Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva, where Kitz found her spiritual home. 

“Every once in a while, a soul enters this world and it is so rare and so pure that it achieves in a short while what other souls can’t achieve in a lifetime,” Levy said. “She was so devoted to making Judaism come alive for everyone. Leah didn’t need to be the focus of attention. Instead, she was always planting seeds and sparks.”

“Every once in a while, a soul enters this world and it is so rare and so pure that it achieves in a short while what other souls can’t achieve in a lifetime.” — Rabbi Naomi Levy

Craig Taubman led the crowd in a soft, slow rendition of the Hashkiveinu prayer in Kitz’s memory. Then friends and colleagues paid tribute to Kitz in stories that spanned decades of friendship and emphasized her ability to connect with people and to maintain relationships, often through handwritten notes expressing gratitude. 

Rabbi Joshua Hoffman of Valley Beth Shalom said that Kitz was one of the first people he met in Los Angeles when he moved here 23 years ago. “The sadness hasn’t yet gone away,” he said, “but it’s softened by what we are creating here today.” 

“I do not think you realize the depth of impact you made on this world,” said Alexandra Kadoche, Kitz’s longtime colleague and friend. “I wish you were here to experience this room and the outpouring of messages of people all over the world who you impacted so profoundly.”  

Kadoche read words from Kitz’s friend Rhonda Seaton, who was unable to attend: “The Torah introduces Leah describing her with the phrase, ‘Leah had tender eyes.’ I think anyone who was lucky enough to know our Leah recognizes that she had tender everything. She was kind, thoughtful, lovely, respectful and possessed a rare ability to embrace you as a friend moments after meeting.” 

Carol Koransky and John Magoulas, who with Kadoche and Seaton were the gathering’s main organizers, stood together.

Koransky recalled when Magoulas had first recommended Kitz, his college friend, as a Super Sunday temp. That position led to a 10-year career in development at Federation, with Kitz working closely with Koransky and Magoulas in an era they called “the time of Camelot.”

“Above all, she was authentic in her friendships, growing a circle of care and kindness,” Koransky said.

Levy summed up the memory of Kitz by saying, “Your life has ended, but your light can never be extinguished. It continues to shine upon us even on the darkest nights and illuminates our way.”