David Hillel Topol, an effective and admired leader in the Greater Washington Jewish community, died on Sept. 21 after an eight-month battle with lung cancer. He was 57 years old.
Topol, a lawyer who lived in Bethesda, served as board president of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS), Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County and Commonwealth Academy in Alexandria. He was also a supporter of numerous other organizations, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC). His community leadership spanned more than two decades.
Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of the JCRC, spoke by phone of Topol’s “practical leadership in many of the organizations that he served, especially at a time of transition.”
Topol led the CESJDS board in a search for the new head of school in 2013. “He was such an effective leader in shepherding organizations,” Siegel said.
“He just had a deep, deep love for the Jewish people, and he really was fascinated by how to make Jewish organizations maximally successful,” Siegel added.
At Shabbat meals, he would speak for hours about Jewish organizational life, Jewish politics and Israel, recalled Siegel, who was a personal friend as well as a colleague.
Topol and his wife, Stacey, were honored by the JCRC two years ago with the Sara and Samuel J. Lessans Community Leadership Award. “It was a wonderful opportunity to recognize him. He had a tremendous amount of respect for our mission. We had no idea at that time that we did not have an endless number of years to make sure that happened,” Siegel said.
Rabbi Mitchel Malkus, head of school at CESJDS, said by phone that Topol, a 1984 graduate of the school, served not only as board president but as chair of the committees for trustees, development and facilities. “He was an incredible volunteer leader. He was engaged with the alumni of the school, and he was generous and a wonderful partner as a parent in the school.”
Malkus said he would meet Topol for coffee in downtown Bethesda for their weekly get-togethers. “I think the most important thing about David is that he had incredible wisdom to be able to share with everyone that he worked with.”
“He served for the best reasons,” Malkus said. “He cared about the future of the Jewish people and making sure the day school was here for the Jewish community and being the best school that it could be.”
Malkus described Topol as “generous of spirit and of heart and of all his resources. While he served in all these roles, I think what really defined him was the way he cared about people and the way he had interactions with people.”
An official statement from CESJDS characterized Topol as “a thoughtful, strategic thinker. He was effective in making positive change, while managing significant leadership, ensuring future governance success and devoting countless hours to advancing our school.”
Topol always “had a kind word for everyone and never spoke ill of another person,” the statement continued.
As board president of Congregation Beth El, Topol guided Beth El members and staff through the severe restrictive measures taken to counter the spread of COVID-19, said Senior Rabbi Greg Harris, who officiated at Topol’s funeral on Sunday.
“David was a strategic thinker,” Harris said by phone, “forcing us to think differently about the needs of the community, shifting to online experiences for adult learning, for worship. We benefitted from his creative and broad thinking about how we could transform the congregation.”
Topol’s motivation to serve, “was simply to strengthen the community,” Harris said. “There was no ego involved. It was really about how he could contribute.”
In 2020, Topol was an inaugural participant in the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Jewish Community Leadership Program.
Topol was a law partner at Wiley Rein, LLP, specializing in the professional liability insurance industry. He previously served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental Enforcement Section.
“He was a dedicated advocate, a respected leader and a mentor to many young attorneys,” according to an obituary posted online by Wiley Rein, LLP.
The CaringBridge website became a personal health and spiritual journal for Topol. He chronicled several months of his fight against an aggressive cancer that ended mid-September with his decision to enter hospice.
“We need more David Topols in the world,” brother-in-law Joseph Slott of Brooklyn shared in a note on CaringBridge.com. “The personification of a mensch.”
Topol is survived by his wife, Stacey Topol; his parents, Allan and Barbara Topol; his children, Samuel, Benjamin and Hannah Topol; and sisters, Rebecca Topol (Emil Mertzel), Deborah (Lawrence) Topol Rosenberg and Daniella (Joseph) Topol Slott. The family asked that memorial gifts be made to Congregation Beth El.