Joan Lipnick Abelson Eulogy
By Rabbi William Rudolph
The story of Joan began in NYC in 1926 (she was 84). Joan was the only child of Jacob and Sally Leff. Jacob was a dentist, Sally an opera coach. Joan graduated from Julia Richmond HS at age 16, and then a BA from Barnard (English major). Her first brush with rabbis was almost immediate, as she served as a Research Asst for Louis Finkelstein at the Seminary. There she met Jack (and Rhoda) Cohen who fixed her up with one Jerry Lipnick (already a bit of a legend for his heroic activism in late 1942 and early 1943 to urge American Jewish leaders to be more responsive to the Holocaust – you can google that impressive effort of Jerry and Noah Golinkin and Buddy Sachs). Jerry’s brother Bernard/Bernie, who also was a rabbi, had a wonderful pulpit career at Bnai Amoona in St Louis MO and just died this winter; his widow Harriet is with us today. Joan and Jerry were married at the Hotel Pierre on December 21, 1947 and soon both were off to his pulpit in Utica NY, the first Beth El in Joan’s life, where between 1946-1960 Jerry and Joan were a wonderfully successful rabbi/ rebbitzin team and where their three children – Miriam, Robert, and Jonathan (her favorite according to the siblings)– were born. The three kids would ultimately give Joan and Jerry a son in law (Forrest) and two daughters in law (Barbara and Susan) and 10 grandchildren. Together with the 11 of Kass we get 21 grandchildren, and also there are 2 great grandchildren.
The Lipnick’s left Utica to serve at Adath Jeshurun in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they spent five good years. During those years (1960-1965) they met and became friends with another rabbinic couple, Kass and Shirley Abelson. Kass was the new senior rabbi at Beth El in St Louis Park. The two couples became friends; Miriam was involved w LTF and Shirley was the Twin Cities advisor. Who could imagine then that the deaths – each long before their time – of Jerry and Shirley would someday bring Kass and Joan together?
After Minnesota, Jerry and Joan lived a year in Israel (he was the educational consultant for the World Council of Synagogues in Jerusalem) before returning to pulpit work in 1966 as the rabbi of the Jacksonville Jewish Center in Jacksonville, Florida. From 1969-1976 Rabbi Lipnick worked as the Director of Education for the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization in Washington D.C. Jerry Lipnick died in March, 1977.
Joan and Jerry were active in the Jewish community here and were involved with Beth El, fast friends with some of my favorite people, Ilya and Edith Weisz, Harold and Vera Fassberg z”l and of course their rabbi and rebbitzin Sam and Judy Scolnic – I say “favorite” because they were among the key figures in fixing me up with my wife.
Joan had gone back to work already in Florida and continued after Jerry died. She had earned an M.A. in education after she and Jerry moved here, and she began serving as a Title I reading specialist for MCPS. Among her colleagues in the system was my wife. She did that for 20 years. In 1989 she and Kass met up again at the R.A. Convention, seemingly by accident but evidently some shrewd rabbinic heads were involved in the “accident.” They cut out on some of the Convention, grew more and more serious as the weeks and months went by, and were married the following year. As Morty Leifman put it, Kass was “blessed with two wonderful wives and marriages.” And he is the first to admit that. On Sunday he spoke to me glowingly of his 20 year “loving and meaningful relationship” with Joan. And he noted that, while neither Joan nor Kass took the place of Shirley or Jerry, they did fill it.
Joan took well to living half the year here and half in Minneapolis where Kass was serving as Rabbi Emeritus but hardly retired. She hooked up with old friends from the earlier days, was in sewing and story telling groups, did book reviews, even helped edit some of Kass’s sermons – I probably was just one of many who benefited from her efforts as his sermons reached the colleagues. She was happy to be part of Kass’s rabbinate, her second rebbitzinate, which was a different kind than Jerry’s: more high profile – Kass was a major, major figure in the Conservative movement and American Jewry/ R.A, President/Law Committee Chair/ creator of USY – different from the activist more grass roots more prophetic kind of rabbinate that Jerry favored from his seminary days on. In Minneapolis Joan also got to enjoy some of the 20-21 grandkids, 7 of whom lived in Minnesota. We in the D.C. area got used to sharing her with Minneapolis, but it always seemed like she was gone more than the “half of the time” that we had been promised. Our hearts go out to Kass, who has now lost two wonderful wives. Watching him these last 7-8 months since erev Purim – when Joan first ended in the hospital for what seemed like an innocuous infection in her shoulder – I can say that I have rarely seen such tireless devotion and care giving. From Kass, also from her kids and grandkids, and Kass’s kids. That Joan never really recovered was not because she lacked loving and caring.
It takes no genius to figure out Joan Lipnick Abelson. She was beautiful on the outside and on the inside- tochah kvara. She loved life, loved people and looked for the good in them. She was bright, sweet but no pushover and had a myriad of interests, hobbies and intellectual pursuits. Her liberal politics was matched by her liberal use of the telephone. She loved family, Shabbat. She was a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother and lately great grandmother twice over. She was a lady, a class act which ended much too soon. And we are left to mourn a special woman who made life – wherever she touched it – better than it was before. Amen