A renaissance man is someone who not only has a general knowledge of many topics, but has some real expertise in at least some of them.
Ted Largman was such a renaissance man.
In fact, the idea of being a renaissance man resonated so deeply with him that he founded the Renaissance Group at Temple B’nai Or in Morristown. His goal was to provide a place where both he and similarly minded adults could express those ideals.
Mr. Largman, who died at 96 two years ago, was a chemist by trade. But he also was an artist, and a man with an abiding passion for the environment. He will be honored posthumously at B’nai Or on Wednesday, October 12, at 5:30 p.m. The program, which is being billed as the first Ted Largman Memorial Speakers series and will be both in person and on Zoom, will feature a conversation and Q & A with former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, who also was the administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
According to B’nai Or’s executive director, Barbara Kavadias of Morristown, Mr. Largman was a longtime active synagogue member. When he died, there was a large outpouring of interest in showing support for the things that mattered to him. Ms. Kavadias said, “The family wanted all the donations made in Mr. Largman’s memory to support the Renaissance Group,” Ms. Kavadias said. “So much money was donated to the group that the decision was made to set up what is hoped will be an annual program in his honor.”
Ms. Kavadias noted that Temple B’nai Or serves the Reform Jewish community of Morris County. With its 425 member families, it is the largest synagogue in the county, drawing not only from Morristown, but also from Madison, Randolph, and Mendham, as well as surrounding towns, including Bernardsville, Basking Ridge, and Hackettstown. It has a preschool and the county’s largest religious school. The synagogue’s members are of all ages — but the Renaissance Group’s members come from its large cohort of senior citizens. The group’s existence is due to Mr. Largman, and it is because of him that it flourishes.
Ted Largman was a highly educated and talented man. He earned a Ph.D. in chemistry, he held 35 patents, including the fire-proof nylon and synthetic fibers found in today’s carpets; he retired from the Honeywell Corporation in 1989. But beyond his accomplishments in that field, Mr. Largman had a consuming interest in the environment, stemming from an incident that occurred in his home.
One day, while his wife, Doris, was doing the laundry, she was upset because she saw that the water in the washing machine had turned brown. She talked to her husband about it, and he went to a local meeting of the Morris Township Environmental Commission on a fact-finding mission. That was the start of his 50 years of engagement with MTEC; he was on its council and served a stint as its chairman.
Through the commission Mr. Largman met Ms. Whitman. She talked about how his passion about the environment had been spurred by a small domestic incident. “It’s a point I make frequently,” she said. “Environmental issues affect us all. Ted recognized and championed this important idea for our world.”
But remember, he was a renaissance man. As deeply as he cared about the environment, that wasn’t his only passion. When he retired from Honeywell, he found himself looking for things to do. That took him to the Community College of Morris, where he enrolled in every course he could find. He wanted to grow his knowledge base.
According to Carol Marin of Denville, one of the leaders of B’nai Or’s Renaissance Group, Mr. Largman was sure that he was not the only person in the synagogue who wanted to keep on learning. “He spoke with our then-rabbi, the late David Levy, and together they brainstormed, founding a group for older congregants who were looking not just for activities to keep their minds sharp, but for occasions to get together socially,” Ms. Marin said. “And so the Renaissance Group was born.” Ms. Marin made clear that although the group’s members also belong to the synagogue, its programming is open to the entire community.
“The Renaissance Group has hosted what I call an extensive range of speakers, coming from every discipline,” Ms. Marin said. “There’s a whole team that gets together and does planning and manages the club.”
Over the years, the group has organized a wide range of programs. Recently it heard from Ashley Koning, the executive director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University, on what went wrong with national polling during the 2016 presidential election, and how methodologies have changed since then.
“Not long ago, we held a session on the Supreme Court,” Ms. Marin said. “We have hosted musical programs as well. They have ranged from classical music to jazz and Broadway. Our cantor, Galit Dadoun Cohen, who was born in Ashdod, Israel, and lives in Morristown, recently gave a performance of French repertoire from the turn of the 20th century.”
The celebratory event at the synagogue will feature a meet and greet with the former governor. Hors d’oeuvres will be followed by a discussion with Ms. Whitman, who will answer questions that have been submitted in advance. This portion of the program will be moderated by Ilene Dorf Manahan of Morristown, a member of the Renaissance Group. It will be followed by a catered dinner. The event is free for Temple B’nai Or Renaissance Group members, and costs $25 for guests; that fee will cover a year-long membership. Ms. Marin hopes that the evening will help grow the membership of the Renaissance Group.
“I’m so pleased to honor Ted and celebrate our shared commitment to protecting the environment, particularly in this area we both called home,” Ms. Whitman said. “He was a true renaissance man.”
To learn more or get reservations, call B’nai Or at (973) 539-4539 or email Barbara Kavadias at firstname.lastname@example.org.