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A TRIBUTE TO 
RABBINITE LEANA LEAH YAHONATAN 

 
 

A TRIBUTE TO 
RABBINITE LEANA LEAH YAHONATAN 

BY 
ELDER YEHUDITH SAMUELS-THOMAS

 

RABBINITE LEAH “LEANA” YAHONATAN TRANSITIONED ON
WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 18, 2020

 
I WISH TO `HONOR THE MEMORY OF SOMEONE FOR WHOM I HAVE GREAT AFFECTION & RESPECT WITH A SHORT WRITTEN TRIBUTE
.

WHEN RABBINITE YAHONATAN ENTERED A ROOM PEOPLE WOULD RISE FROM THEIR SEAT AT HER APPROACH, THOSE WHO DID NOT KNOW HER, ASSUMED SHE WAS BEING GIVEN THIS RESPECT BECAUSE SHE WAS AN ELDER, AND AT TIMES, SOMEONE WOULD WHISPER, OR WONDER OUT LOUD “WHO IS SHE” ? THOSE OF US WHO KNEW HER STOOD UP, NOT ONLY BECAUSE SHE WAS AN ELDER & A RABBINITE, (THE WIFE OF RABBI YAHOSHUAH ben YAHONATON ha COHEN z’tl), BUT BECAUSE SHE WAS A MORAH, A SCHOLAR & A PILLAR OF OUR COMMUNITY.
SO TODAY,  I WISH TO SHARE WITH YOU, WHY I HOLD  THIS “PHENOMENAL WOMAN” WHO HAS SPENT MOST OF HER LIFE IN SERVICE TO THE

MOST HIGH & IN SERVICE TO OUR COMMUNITY, IN SUCH HIGH ESTEEM

FIRST, WITH ALL DUE RESPECT TO THE MEMORY OF RABBI YAHONATAN, LEAH “LEANA” YAHONATON WAS A TEACHER IN ISRAEL BEFORE SHE WAS A RABBINITE. SHE WAS A GRADUATE OF THE “HEBREW ISRAELITE ACADEMY Inc.” WHICH WAS FOUNDED IN 1925, UNDER THE TUTELAGE AND TEACHINGS OF CHIEF RABBI W. A. MATTHEWS, z”tl  - FOUNDER OF COMMANDMENT KEEPERS  ETHIOPIAN HEBREW CONGREGATION.
IN OTHER WORDS, SHE WAS A RENOWNED TEACHER OF HEBRAIC STUDIES IN OUR COMMUNITY BEFORE HER BELOVED HUSBAND WAS AN ORDAINED RABBI.


MOREOVER, AS PERSONAL SECRETARY TO THE LATE CHIEF RABBI W. A. MATTHEW z'tl, SHE WAS PRESENT AT MOST OF HIS MAJOR PUBLIC ENGAGEMENTS. SHE ALSO SERVED AS THE CONGREGATION’S  SECRETARY UNTIL CHIEF RABBI MATTHEWS’ MADE HIS TRANSITION IN 1973.

SUBSEQUENTLY,  SHE AND HER LATE HUSBAND FOUNDED BETH HA-TEFELAH, IN MOUNT VERNON, NEW YORK, AND THEY TOGETHER PARTICIPATED WITH OTHER CONGREGATIONS IN THE NEW YORK AREA GIVING OF THEMSELVES.  IN MANY OCCASIONS, RABBINITE YAHONATAN WOULD GO BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY ANY WAY SHE COULD INCLUDING, TEACHING, SPONSORING  SEMINARS & SYMPOSIUMS IN OTHER STATES, AND PROVIDING FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE (WHEN NECESSARY). 

IN THE EARLY 80’S, SHE WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN ENCOURAGING AND ASSISTING  HER BELOVED HUSBAND  IN ESTABLISHING THE HEBREW/ISRAELITE RABBINICAL COUNCIL, Inc. THE ORGANIZATION PRIMARY MISSION WAS TO EDUCATE THE ISRAELITE COMMUNITY AND TO MAKE AVAILABLE RABBINICAL SERVICES TO THE ISRAELITE COMMUNITY  IN WHATEVER CAPACITY NEEDED, (such as, Marriages, Brit Milahs, Naming Ceremonies, Funerals, etc.) SOME OF THE CHARTED MEMBERS OF THE COUNCIL WERE: RABBI BEZALEL, DOVID, KADMIEL, RABBI PARIS, RABBI POINSETT, AND RABBI WHITE (ALL OF BLESSED MEMORY),  AND RABBI NOLAN OF CHICAGO AND KOHAIN NATANYAH HA-LEVI OF GHANA.


RABBINITE SERVED AS PRESIDENT OF THE WOMEN’S AUXILIARY OF THE HEBREW/ISRAELITE RABBINICAL COUNCIL THROUGHOUT THE 80’S & 90’S, AND UNDER HER LEADERSHIP, WE WERE INVITED TO CONNECT WITH THE NEW YORK JEWISH BOARD OF EDUCATION, AS WELL AS, WITH THE FREDRICK DOUGLAS ACADEMY, IN HARLEM (one of the top 5 High Schools in New York State).


AMAZINGLY, SHE MANAGED TO ACCOMPLISH ALL OF THESE THINGS AND MORE, WHILE RAISING HER  BELOVED DAUGHTER (RIVKAH), RUNNING A HOUSEHOLD, AND WORKING FOR THE STATE OF NEW YORK FOR THE BETTER PART OF 27 YEARS. I, AS AN OFFICER OF THE WOMAN’S AUXILIARY OF THE RABBINICAL COUNCIL, WORKED CLOSELY WITH HER AND I HAVE DEVOTED A SECTION OF MY MEMOIRS TO SOME OF HER WORKS.


IN LATER YEARS, UPON MOVING TO PENSLYVANNIA, SHE, RABBI YAHONATAN AND BECKY JOINED THE FAMILY OF CONGREGATION TEMPLE BETH-EL AND WAS “SPIRITUAL ADVISOR” TO THE PHENOMENAL ISRAELITE WOMAN’S ORGANIZATION.
SHE ALSO HELD THE DISTINCTION  OF BEING THE LAST SURVIVING MEMBER OF THE  “ROYAL ORDER OF ETHIOPIAN HEBREWS”.
 

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