Ira Lerner: A Community Institution

Ira Lerner, z”l

By David Ogul

SAN DIEGO — Judaism teaches that the world relies on three principles: religious observance, divine work and acts of kindness. Ira Lerner showed his dedication to this philosophy through his professional life, his commitment to his religion and his ties to his family and many friends.

Professionally, he served his country as a civilian engineer working with the Navy in designing, developing and evaluating classified support systems. He served his Jewish community through board positions at both Tifereth Israel (most notably as President) and Congregation Beth El in San Diego and as a founding member of Beth Am San Diego and B’nai Shalom of Olney, Md. Most importantly to him, Ira was a devoted husband to Susy, a father to Steve and Sam, and brother to Charles.

Lerner died peacefully February 2 at his home in University City from esophageal cancer. He was 72.

“Ira was a man I admired and looked up to,” said Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal of Tifereth Israel Synagogue. “Not only for his intelligence and devotion to his family, community, and friends, but also because he lived such a good straightforward healthy life. Ira did everything right.”

Lerner was born Jan. 26, 1945, in Belleville, Ill.  His family later moved to the metro-Washington, DC, area, where he was a member of the first graduating class of Robert E. Peary High School, Rockville, Md., and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Electronics Engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park.

He attended graduate school at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and at the University of Maryland, then spent a career as a civilian for the Navy working on an array of classified military projects. At Naval Electronic Systems Command headquarters, projects included modernizing the military application of the Doppler Radar system.  As a project engineer with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego, Lerner was instrumental in developing secure communications systems, provided software support for the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, and served as an installation manager for the Joint Operational Tactical System during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Lerner also helped develop the Global Positional Satellite for secure military use, a system that has become an almost indispensable navigational tool for motorists, hikers and more.  And Lerner served as Senior Project Engineer with Trandes Corp. and Senior Program Manager at AMSEC, both Navy support contractors.

Lerner retired at the end of 2011 to play table tennis and work out at the JCC fulltime.  At home, Lerner was known as Mr. Fix It and was an aficionado of classic cars and model trains. His pride and joy was an elaborate G-scale model train layout he designed and built in the yard outside his home.

More than anything, however, Lerner was committed to Judaism.  Continual learning was of great importance.  He was twice a graduate of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, once on his own and once with Susy.

“Ira Lerner’s death leaves a huge void at Tifereth Israel,” said synagogue president Jerry Hermes, who noted that Lerner long served as the lead gabbai who assists the Torah reader on Shabbat and helps maintain proper decorum.

“Ira was a wonderful donor to our congregation, both in the customary and traditional way, and also when we needed something extra for a specific endeavor.  His last such gift was just months ago, when he and Susy paid for two new special High Holy Day Torah mantles which we needed.”

Added Rabbi Rosenthal: “Ira was devoted to Judaism and the Jewish community. He and Susy were regulars at Shabbat services, and participated in almost every synagogue event, activity, and class. They were also generous financial supporters of Tifereth Israel, usually donating quietly and without fanfare.”

Lerner was interred Feb. 6, 2017, at El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego. He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Susy Lerner; two sons, Steve (MD) and Sam (MA); and his brother, Charles Lerner (MD).

Donations can be made to Tifereth Israel Synagogue, the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, Planned Parenthood, or the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Ogul is a freelance writer and communications firm principal based in San Diego.

San Diego Jewish World’s eulogy series is sponsored by Marc and Margaret Cohen in memory of Molly Cohen, and by Inland Industries Group LP in memory of long-time San Diego Jewish community leader Marie (Mrs. Gabriel) Berg.


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