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Rebbetzin Leah Kagan, 1933-2016

It is certainly not a small thing when someone dies and it can be said, “No one ever had a bad thing to say about that person.” It is something else again, however, when someone dies and it is said, “Everyone had something nice to say about that person.”All the more so when that person interacted with thousands of people over her lifetime, as a veteran teacher will do — with both students and parents — not to mention in her other roles.

That person was Leah Kagan, kindergarten teacher at Hillel Academy for decades, veteran doer of good deeds and loyal friend and counselor. And this only begins to capture this remarkable woman who left us rather suddenly this week.

It was not just that Mrs. Kagan always had a kind word, or that others had a kind word for her. It was this: Whenever she spent time with you, whether a lot or a little, she was in the moment. She was with you. Focused on you. No one else existed in her mind for the time she interacted with you. She kept up with many people in her unassuming way. She was able to be in the moment with you because she already had an idea about what was going on in your life or genuinely desired to know. It did not hurt that her presence, her focus, was always accompanied by a smile and, more often than not, a gentle laugh.

All this is what she did in the normal course of her life. Then there were the many instances in which she went beyond, acting as a shoulder to cry on or an unpretentious  pillar of wisdom, taking widows under her wing or providing a nuts-and-bolts safety net — a meal and a bed, sometimes for long periods of time.

Even all this does not yet touch the cheerful attitude with which she greeted her life’s work as a moral support behind her husband Rabbi Israel M. Kagan and the risky, unprecedented enterprise that Rabbi Isaac Wasserman and he undertook a long time ago: a full-time yeshiva in a part of the world that had never supported such an institution. The fact that the yeshiva is now taken for granted as a normal part of the furniture of our community is due to the pioneering and unwavering spirit of Rebbetzin Kagan and the other founders of the yeshiva. It is difficult to recapture in 2016 just how unusual Rebbetzin Kagan’s aspiration seemed in 1967 even to the local Orthodox Jewish community, let alone to the broader Jewish community, which YTC’s leaders have now incorporated into the yeshiva’s support system.

Oh, and did we mention? Amidst all these public roles, Mrs. Kagan raised a large family. She leaves behind many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren!

What better symbol for her life than the current construction at the yeshiva, its first from-the-ground-up capital campaign. She carried her illustrious past — daughter and descendant of generations of Torah scholars — into a vision for the future.

Little did Denver realize how blessed it was with the arrival of young Leah Kagan nearly five decades ago.

Copyright © 2016 by the Intermountain Jewish News


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