About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article about Leslie Kellner, who attended elementary and high school with my husband Jerry. I was tagged in a picture on Facebook, because Leslie had posted a picture and tagged my friend in it. To make a long story short, Leslie asked if anyone recognized the boys in the picture. As I took a closer look, Jerry was in the picture. That random post, was the beginning of reconnecting the friendship between Leslie and Jerry.
Leslie filled me in on his early years in elementary school and how Jerry bullied him. I was shocked because the Jerry I know couldn’t hurt a fly. When he arrived home I questioned him about how he could have done that to a classmate. As I spoke about each instance, he didn’t remember at first. I’m guessing it was so bad that he wiped it from his memory. Jerry walked around in a funk for three days after that, feeling so guilty for what he had done all those years ago.
I invited Leslie and all of his friends from elementary and high school who lived in Woodmere for a Shabbat meal that lasted for hours, with dozens of stories. We all laughed heartily as Beverly said BTA was a school for derelicts but that nobody had informed the students of this. Leslie had the capacity to be recall and reenact scenes of school antics with perfect memory down to the finest details. Weeks after, Steve and Faye made a Shabbat Bris for their grandson, and Leslie was included. He sat in a row with Jerry, Neil Stein and Benji Krupka, all davening together, enjoying the unique familiarity of each of their individual voices blending together to produce the timeless harmony of friendship, still vibrant and loving after not seeing one another as a group of old friends for over 40 years, as if time had suspended itself waiting for their friendships to resume.
Leslie and Jerry began to speak regularly and even set up time each Thursday to speak. Jerry regularly apologized about bullying him, but Leslie compassionately insisted that he would not listen to Jerry about this. “We were just kids, and you must let this go,” he implored. On one of their last messages, Leslie wrote to Jerry, “I’m so glad we reconnected. I love you and who would have thought that.”
Unfortunately, on Monday, March 13, Leslie suddenly collapsed and died from a massive heart attack in the lobby of his condominium in the city. An hour later, hundreds of his friends were on Facebook, distraught and in shock.
Leslie was an only child whose parents died years ago. He was married, but lost his wife, the love of his life, at age 39. They didn’t have any children. The first thought after the shock subsided was how can it be possible that there would be nobody to sit shivah for Leslie. But as tributes started pouring in to his Facebook page I realized that this was a man who had more friends, colleagues and relationships than anyone I have ever met, and was loved by every one of them.
Leslie had friends in almost every state, and in other countries. They were younger, older, some related and some not.
“To know Les was a gift,” posted Christopher Vislocky. “He was funny, caring, strong, loyal as well as an amazing storyteller. He was the kind of friend that you would want next to you in a fox hole he always had your back.”
“You were truly a godsend,” posted Michele. “Your ability to share stories and give guidance … and words of wisdom [helped] carry many of us through dark times.”
From Dr. Steve Kollander: "As a friend said to me the other day, nobody would cut at BTA because we were always having too much fun to cut. And Les was an integral part of why it was so much fun. Nobody did a spot on impression of teachers like Les and any impressions that any of us were doing ended up being impressions of Les doing impressions. I will always remember him as the red-headed kid with a voice that sounded like he had gravel in his throat. And I will always thank Hershel (Jerry) and Judy for bringing him back into our hearts. He will be terribly missed.”
Jerry and I reflected on that wonderful Shabbat meal we had with close friends and Leslie. Leslie was honored to lead the benching. He smiled and asked Jerry “if we could sing the benching ‘Rambam style’.” Leslie sang proudly with a beautiful smile on his face, repeating the parts that we repeated as elementary school kids. He finished the final portion of benching singing especially slowly and loudly, “Na’ar ha’yiti v’gam zocanti, v’lo roiti tzadik naazov“ (“I was young and now I have aged and I have not seen a righteous man forsaken.”)
Ironically, we as friends singing and laughing together at our Shabbat table had shared childhood together and now we were together approaching the late fall or experiencing the early frost of the winter of our lives; however we were firmly reconnected in our life-long friendship.
Leslie, a righteous man who provided loving friendship and joy to so many friends, was not left forsaken when he passed away, as the pain of loss was felt profoundly by each of us. Jerry and I and, our close friends Steve and Faye and Harry and Beverly, had looked forward to sharing so many more wonderful times in our lives together with Leslie. We now carry the profound feelings of sadness that only one who has loved and lost can experience.
Since Les had a huge heart, and was loved by so many, what better recipe than one that contains a “heart.” (Also, I have been asked by many to print recipes made with a sous vide, so here it is).
Beef Heart in Romesco Sauce by Paleo + Life
This can be made on Pesach
Beef heart, approximately 3 lbs
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/2 large onion, sliced thinly
4 sweet bell peppers, sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/4 cup almond flour
Preheat sous vide to 185 degrees. Rinse the heart and pat dry. In a medium bowl, sprinkle the paprika, parsley, salt and pepper over the meat, making sure all sides of the heart are coated.
In a sous vide pouch, combine the heart, onions, bell peppers, garlic and oil. With the vacuum sealer, seal the bag shut. Place pouch in the sous vide. Allow to cook for 24-36 hours. Remove pouch from sous vide and set aside until cool enough to handle.
When cooled, open pouch and remove heart; set aside. Pour vegetables, cooking juices and almond flour into a high-speed blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds, or until a smooth sauce has formed.
Slice the heart into portions approximately 3/4” thick. When ready to serve, top slices of heart with a spoonful of sauce.