Born in Harlem, the man who founded Congregation Beth Sholom is credited with helping to build a portion of the Five Towns Jewish community was remembered during a funeral service on Feb. 14 at the Lawrence synagogue in the village where he lived.
“He was a builder, it says in the bible that there is a plan for everything under the sun,” his wife, Susan Alter, a former New York City councilwoman, told the Herald. “And it’s now time to mourn a builder who built not only a synagogue, but an entire Jewish community where there was none … No matter where he was in the world his congregation was the dearest thing to his heart.”
Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman died on Feb. 13. He was 96. He came to the Five Towns in 1950 after serving as the spiritual leader of shuls in Charleston, West New York, New Jersey; and Kingston, Ontario. It was a nice little goyish town,” he told matzav.com in 2011 about Lawrence. “We were the first and only synagogue. Today’s there’s a shteeble on every corner.”
His father was a highly regarded Talmudic scholar who worked in the garment district and ensured his son attended yeshiva, in Harlem and then the Bronx after the family moved to Brownsville. Klaperman never stopped learning. Ordained in 1941 at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, he received a bachelor’s degree and doctorate from Yeshiva University, a master’s from the University of Iowa and a law dgree from Hofstra Law School.
“He was essential in the development and growth of the Five Towns Jewish community over the last 70 years, helped establish not only the first Orthodox synagogue in our community but in Nassau County,” said Rabbi Kenneth Hain, the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Sholom. “He also helped create the important infrastructure such as Hillel now HAFTR school, the establishment of the eruv to enhance Sabbath observance and was a founder of the Five Towns Vaad Hakashrut. “He was a man of great intellect and vision who will be deeply missed by our synagogue and many thought the world.”
Klaperman met his first wife, Libby Mindlir, at 16. He said that the most formative time in his life was when he was student at Yeshiva University and studied under Rabbis Samuel Belkin and Joseph Soloveitchik. There is a Libby M. Klaperman chair at the Manhattan school.
When in South Carolina, Klaperman was considered one of the voices of reason in what was described by Jeffrey Gurock, the author of “Orthodox Jews in America,” a pitched battle between Conservative and Orthodox Judaism in that southern state. Gurock told matzav.com seven years ago that the rabbi was “emblematic of that era.” “He understood the big picture in terms of American Jewry,” Gurock said. “Not everyone is going to be as Orthodox or observant as the next fellow.”
Klaperman served the Lawrence congregation until 1988, and became a Rabbi Emeritus. After retirement, he was an officer and general counsel of Rapitech Systems, Inc., a computer software company, Assistant District Attorney in Kings County and general counsel of the Department of Business Services of the City of New York. He was a member of the Law Department of the New York City Housing Authority.
“He was a very strong person, but a very nice person … a major Jewish leader with great fortitude,” said Alan Gerber, a Jewish Star columnist and Cedarhurst resident.
The rabbi is survived by Alter, children Joel Klaperman, Frieda Klaperman and Carol Morrow, and stepchildren Beth Alter and Shira Alter, and sister Sylvia Tuchman.
The family will be sitting shiva at their Lawrence home through Feb. 20.
Tyler Marko contributed to this story.