By the Ledger Editorial Advisory Board
Leonard E. Greenberg, who died Monday at the age of 89, was a native son of Hartford who never lacked the courage of his convictions.
He walked into Trinity College as one of the local boys – mostly Jews from the North End and Italians from the South – who were happy with the education they got but not so happy with the High WASP culture of the place. Objecting to mandatory attendance in the Episcopal chapel, he persuaded the powers that be to let him attend synagogue instead.
Hating the fraternities, which then would not have the likes of him as a member, he helped establish Trinity Hillel – today one of the most successful, and welcoming, student organizations on campus. In due course, he became a member of the Board of Trustees, eventually serving as chair of the finance committee and shaking up the College’s habitually stodgy investment policy.
Leonard Greenberg built his father’s leather-goods company into Coleco Industries, a multifaceted toy manufacturer that most famously, and profitably, produced the Cabbage Patch Kids of the 1980s. But he took time off from his business career to acquire a master’s degree at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Besides taking leadership roles with the American Jewish Committee and AIPAC, he helped prepare children for their bar and bat mitzvahs. “His accomplishments truly had a spiritual underpinning,” said his younger brother Arnold, who joined him in the business in 1966.
In a community of Jewish Democrats, Leonard stood out (with his wife Phyllis) as a loyal Republican. But he was not so loyal as to embrace his Party’s allegiance with the religious right, which he considered a threat to the principle of separation of church and state. So when Trinity President Evan Dobelle decided to establish a center to examine the role of religion in society in 1996, he gladly agreed to support it.
The result was the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, which has established a national reputation as a leading source of research and commentary on religion in contemporary America. Together with the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford, founded by Arnold Greenberg in 1985, it provides Hartford with public programs on a wide array of subjects and issues.
Leonard Greenberg seized the opportunities that the post-World War II era offered Jewish Americans, proudly insisting that he be accepted on his own terms, which he was. His life was a lesson and a blessing to the community in which he grew up and thrived, Gentile as well as Jewish.
Leonard Greenberg, 89, of Boynton Beach, Florida, and Nantucket, Massachusetts, formerly of West Hartford, died July 10. He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Phyllis (Spivack) Greenberg; his children, Ilene Greenberg and her husband Michael Maynard of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and Robert Greenberg of Coral Springs, Florida; his brother Arnold Greenberg and his wife Beverly of West Hartford; his brother-in-law Charles Spivack and his wife Ann of Sun City, Florida; his grandchildren, Lauren, Jamie, Rebecca, Liana, Maya, Kirstie and Joshua, and four great-grandchildren Hunter, Jordan, Ace, and Liam. Leonard also leaves behind a special aunt, Estelle Horwitz, and many nieces, nephews and cousins.