Leon Lefson, 1914-2013
I am a fortunate man. For the past 20 years, Leon Lefson of Sacramento, 98, who passed away on April 5, was a dear friend. A fighter for justice near and far, he left a deep and lasting imprint on me.
Leon was born on November 25, 1914, moving to Sacramento in the 1950s. He set the bar high in his trademark way of loving understanding. Leon’s calm manner of listening and responding helped me to get a grip on myself during trying times with others in Sacramento’s “left” activist community.
See, I have a (male?) tendency to act first and think last. This behavior works against cooperation, the basis of policies and politics of, by and for justice, which I support.
Leon’s wisdom and words helped me, on more than one occasion, to walk away from escalating what some call circular firing squads. They are cause and effect of activist groups that lack power, an occupational hazard.
Always, Leon listened to my side of the story. “ I see, Seth,” he would say. Leon convinced me to keep my eyes on the long-term struggle, to see the short-term as a vital step in that process. I heeded his call.
I have not had many role models. Yet Leon was one of mine. His sensibility for me was familylike. And that sentiment was mutual.
My fond spot for Leon flowed, no doubt, in part from his origin. He and his family came from the same place and time as my late parents and their kin. They were American Jews of immigrant parents who arrived by boat in New York. During this time, mainstream racism raged against Jewish people, stereotyped as a separate and, yes, nonwhite race, based on centuries of bigotry and in the 20th century, a so-called science of eugenics.
As a result, Leon supported the struggles of underdogs here and abroad in their fights for justice. For example, he was ahead of the curve in American Jewish public opinion as a proponent of the Palestinian people seeking human rights under Israeli apartheid.
Leon and my parents came of age in the Great Depression of the 1930s, when labor unions fought for and won Social Security and unemployment insurance. Leon lived through that tumult as the ninth of 10 siblings.
Further, he shared the lessons of these landmark social movements with younger people such as me. His rays of inspiration—of people previously separated forming united fronts of resistance—gave me hope for a more humane society under the greedy sway of multibillionaires now.
Leon was a treasure trove of insight on what regular people can do when they put their minds and shoulders together. His was the communal spirit of the Occupy movement and Arab Spring.
Leon’s deep generosity and humanity improved me. For that, I am in his debt. Leon is gone, but my good fortune to have been his friend remains.