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It is with great sadness that we share news of the passing of Rabbi Lynne F. Landsberg z’l. Funeral services will be held this week in Washington, D.C., and the interment will be the following day near her home in Staunton, VA. We extend our deepest condolences to Lynne’s husband, Dennis Ward, and son, Jesse Ward, as well as her entire family.
For decades, Lynne was one of the American Jewish community’s best known, most eloquent, and beloved advocates for social justice. As associate director of the Religious Action Center (1988-96), and then a regional director for the Union for Reform Judaism (1996-1999), she was a respected and influential leader in civil rights, reproductive rights, and interfaith relations.
Lynne was a graduate of HUC-JIR, ordained in 1981. She served as associate rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York City (1981-84) and then as rabbi of Temple House of Israel in Staunton, VA, and Congregation Beth El in Harrisonburg, VA.
In 1999, Lynne sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury because of an auto accident. After a long recovery, she refocused her efforts on the area of disability rights, serving as the senior advisor on disability rights to the Reform Jewish Movement, where she played a key role in mobilizing the religious community generally and the Jewish community more particularly to address issues of accessibility in religious life.
As the RAC’s senior advisor on disability rights, Lynne oversaw the Reform Movement’s advocacy work on disability issues, championing such causes as the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, and encouraging Reform congregations to become more fully inclusive of individuals with disabilities and their families. She was fond of saying, “The ADA mandates access to public buildings, but it cannot mandate access to the human heart.”
In this role, Lynne worked closely with entire RAC staff for whom she was a teacher, mentor, and friend. She worked particularly closely with the RAC’s Eisendrath Legislative Assistants, one of whom worked with her each year on the Movement’s disability rights portfolio. Inspired by Lynne, this group of former legislative assistants continues to be deeply dedicated to disability rights and inclusion.
Lynne was a longtime member of the steering committee of the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition – a coalition of representatives from national denominations and faith groups (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and more). In 2007 she co-founded the Jewish Disability Network, a coalition of national Jewish movements and organizations advocating for the civil and human rights of people with disabilities, and in 2013, she co-founded and co-chaired Hineinu: Jewish Community for People of All Abilities. Hineinu is an historic and innovative collaboration of the Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Movements and Chabad. Disability professionals from each stream share resources, support, and direction to increase the inclusion of people with disabilities in synagogues and the Jewish community at large.
Lynne was the 2009 recipient of the Rabbi Martin Katzenstein Award given by the Harvard Divinity School (HDS) Alumni/ae Association to an HDS graduate who “exhibits a passionate and helpful interest in the lives of other people, an informed and realistic faithfulness, an embodiment of the idea that love is not so much a feeling as a way of acting, and a reliable sense of humor." She was the 2012 recipient of the Jewish Foundation of Group Homes S. Robert Cohen award, and the 2015 inaugural recipient of the Thornburgh Family Award from the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition, a program of the American Association of People with Disabilities.