Marc Weinberg, a 35-year-old immigrant from Britain who influenced many families to immigrate to Israel, was laid to rest in Modi'in on Thursday. His impact was evident in the appearance of Britain's chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, who flew in from London to eulogize the former head of the British Bnei Akiva movement, Jewish educator, businessman and activist. Weinberg was married with two girls.
Sacks said that those around Weinberg "were inspired by his faith, his moral courage, his passion and his compassion. They were drawn to him, and he drew out the best in them."
Around a thousand people gathered to bid farewell to Weinberg, who died early Thursday of complications following a bone-marrow transplant after battling leukemia since October 2007. A driver for the Jewish burial society of Modi'in, where Weinberg had lived since immigrating in 2006, said it was the largest crowd he had ever seen at a funeral in the city.
"It was scheduled for five but it didn't actually start until a quarter to six because the stream of people just never ended," said Phil Schajer of Modi'in, formerly of London. Schajer knew Weinberg since they were 10.
"The chief rabbi wasn't the only one who flew in for Marc," said James Franks, another longtime friend of Weinberg. "So many people came here from England, even after the funeral, to console the family and express their sympathies. Even now, at the shiva, people keep on streaming into the house, the phones don't stop ringing, the messages don't stop coming," he said Friday morning.
Weinberg had countless friends in Britain. A Facebook group founded when he was first diagnosed with leukemia has more than 1,100 members. Immediately after he died, the site was flooded with condolences, many recalling his charismatic leadership of the many educational projects he was involved in.
As the head of Bnei Akiva in Britain, Weinberg oversaw 40 national branches with thousands of members. He was also instrumental in revitalizing the London School of Jewish Studies and created in London a new Modern Orthodox congregation, Alei Tzion, in 2004.
Two years later, as Weinberg was planning his move to Israel, he made sure to bring along some friends. "I am here as a direct result of Marc," Schajer recalled Friday. "He brought in a real estate director from Modi'in. We sat together with some families from Alei Tzion, and I can name half a dozen families that now live in Modi'in because of that meeting. We're all here because of him."
Although a businessman by profession - he finished near the top of his MBA class at Cambridge - Weinberg always considered Jewish education his main priority, Franks said. "He worked only to have enough influence and money to be able to invest in what he really cared about: education."
From the moment Weinberg arrived in Modi'in, he became involved in various projects. "He immediately started talking to people about plans to change the education system in the city, about having a different outlook that would make education more appealing and could bring students closer to Judaism," Franks said.
Rivka Klein, a close family friend, told Haaretz: "He was a very sharp person. He was also the kind of person who put his money where his mouth was. Whenever he saw things needed to be changed, he was the first one to get up and do something about it."
On his blog "On the Contrary," Baltimore native Elli Fischer recalled how Weinberg changed his life with one question. "As we strolled down his street, he asked me, quite pointedly and mildly pedantically, after hearing about my seminary job: "'Rabbi Fischer, is this what you see yourself doing in 10 years?' He rendered me speechless as I realized for the first time that the answer was no."
Inspired by the ensuing conversation, Fischer decided to change his career from education to writing and translation, writes Fischer. "Marc was a meticulous planner whose outlook emphasized pragmatic financial concerns while ensuring that such matters do not come at the expense of what was truly meaningful in life - for him, family and friends, learning and teaching. I'm not sure he realized how much his advice and encouragement meant."
On another blog - Nusach Freak - a longtime friend remembered how Weinberg and his wife Natalie insisted on having his family over for dinner on the first night they arrived in Modi'in.
After offering juice to his guests' children, Weinberg explained to his own daughter Yona, then about 3, "that part of hachnasat orchim [hospitality] is offering your guests food and drink even before taking for yourself," the anonymous blogger wrote. "For me, Marc's simple statement to Yona was representative of a key part of Marc's persona - a complete dedication to Jewish education and making every opportunity an educational one."
At the funeral, Natalie read from a journal entry he wrote in March 2009, which she said Friday was the message he wanted to convey to others: "Perhaps the journey of searching for our dreams is more important than the result. The most important thing is we should never give up on dreaming." Marc Weinberg is survived by his wife, his daughters Yona and Maayan, his parents Henry and Syma and his sister Debra Weinberg Tabory.