"Lenny knew it wasn't institutions that changed the world,
his true gift was his ability to make each and every person he touched
feel as though the betterment of human kind rested in that person's own hands."
Lenny Zakim spent his early childhood growing up in the suburban town of Wayne, New Jersey. From his days as a young boy there, Zakim had strongly felt as though he was in the minority. Being one of the only Jews in his neighborhood, he had experienced personal confrontations with anti-semitism. The town was still tainted by a long history of discrimination, used as a haven for Nazism during the war and witnessing Klan activities. Lenny's realization about his differences came when he was thirteen. In his personal confrontations with anti-Semitism, he was left "speechless and without a clue as to how to react the first time he was called a kike by a 'friend'," he remembers. These types of incidents continued for many years as he faced the stereotypes often associated with Jews. These same incidents would also come to fuel his desire to dispel myths and learn how to respond in his crusade for a better social climate. His father, Gerald, remembers how Lenny's persistence as an athlete would later reflect his drive to achieve his goals. He was voted "hustler of the week" repeatedly despite his small size. Even as a teenager Lenny took on causes that moved him, organizing food drives for the underprivileged. One of the turning points in his life came during a trip to Israel at the age of 17. The experience had a profound impact in the discovery of his Jewish roots and would later influence his career path.
Lenny with parents, Jerry and Phyllis Zakim.
His leadership abilities first became evident when he was a student at American University. Lenny embraced student politics and did volunteer legal work for the poor. As he went on to The New England School of Law, he activist style further developed. Lenny never planned to become a lawyer himself, yet he wished to use his position to advance civil rights and promote his goals. Heavily influenced by John F. Kennedy, Lenny wished to make his own contribution to society. He quickly rose to be the president of the law school and volunteered as an advocate in housing issues. Shortly after graduating, he began to work for Michael Dukakis in his 1978 reelection campaign. He then began work for the ADL. After only a few years with the organization, Lenny was promoted to New England director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith in 1983. Zakim was just 29 at the time, becoming the youngest regional director ever appointed. His passion and belief in what he was doing enabled him to rise to the position in a process some colleagues described as "meteoric." Since then, he had made fighting racial discrimination a top priority of the ADL in Boston. "For us to remain silent in this city when blacks can't walk into different neighborhoods...I think that would be malpractice or negligence," he once said in an interview. Lenny was able to give the ADL, usually a highly centralized organization, a great deaL of influence as it took a strong position and rose to the forefront of national affairs under his guidance.
Kitty Dukakis and Former MA Governor Michael Dukakis join Lenny in 1995.
In the winter of 1995, Lenny Zakim was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a malignancy of the bone marrow. The disease would have devastating physical effects on Lenny as he underwent high dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. Yet, remarkably, he was able acquire a new passion for life and gained a more spiritual outlook towards his work, seeing the urgency of living his life to its fullest. Lenny courageously advocated for the use of alternative and complimentary therapies and the humane treatment of patients. Even in his frailest state, his family remembers, Lenny impressed crowds with his energy as he continued making public appearances. He came to thrive on giving speeches and exuded an inherent passion.The personal will and focus that he had seemed to intensify. Lenny now began to take on a new cause, advocating for patients like himself and becoming involved with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Because Lenny inspired real change, this year The Zakim Center for Complimentary Therapies was started there in his honor.