Rabbi Klaperman Celebrates 90 Years


rabbi-gilbert-klapermanAs he sat by the aron for the celebration of his 90th birthday last week in Congregation Beth Sholom, it seemed that Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman had simply forgotten to become old. After all, he only last retired two years ago.

“Well, I’ve been waiting for this all my life,” Rabbi Klaperman said about his 90th birthday celebration. Later, he explained that it wasn’t actually his 90th birthday and at the time of the celebration last Shabbos, February 20, he was still only 89. In accordance with his tradition, the shul celebrated his birthday the week of his bar mitzvah parashah, when he read the weekly haftorah. But if anyone noticed the incongruency at the celebration for the rabbi who has met with several presidents, attained more degrees than can be safely written in a single sentence, and is credited with building portions of  the Five Towns Jewish community, no one said anything.

Rabbi Klaperman was born in Harlem in 1921. His father was a well-regarded Talmudic scholar who worked in the garment district to provide for his family. He made sure that his son attended yeshiva, first in Harlem and then in the Bronx when the family moved to Brownsville.

“When it rained, my mother met me at the station with a raincoat and took me home,” Rabbi Klaperman said. “I loved every day of it.”

At age 16, Rabbi Klaperman met his first wife, Libby Mindlir.

He said that his most formative years occurred when he was a student in Yeshiva University, studying under the tutelage of Rabbi Samuel Belkin and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik.

“I loved Yeshiva,” Rabbi Klaperman said, using the shorthand name for the university. “I never had as much enjoyment in any undertaking as Yeshiva . . . Rabbi Belkin – he was my rebbe, my friend, and my mentor.”

He got semichah and set off to try to emulate the rabbinical figures that inspired him. “I always tried to be like them,” he said. “Of course, I couldn’t be like them.”

YU sent him to become the rabbi of a Hillel organization in Queens University in Canada. At the university, he met several Jewish soldiers and they asked him to become a chaplain. After getting permission from the State Department, Rabbi Klaperman joined the Canadian army. After three years, he accepted a professorship at the University of Iowa teaching Jewish studies. From there he received another call from YU about a shul in Charlestown, South Carolina. “The yeshiva kept on moving me,” he said. “They wanted me to fill the holes.”

Life In South Carolina

According to Jeffrey Gurock, the author of Orthodox Jews in America, South Carolina was the focus of a pitched battle between Conservative and Orthodox Judaism. “This was an era of tremendous struggle between Orthodoxy and Conservatism and Gil was one of Yeshiva’s bright young men,” said Gurock, who also occupies the Libby M. Klaperman chair at Yeshiva University, named after Klaperman’s wife. “Along with his colleagues, Hershel Shachter and the late Israel Miller, they battled for Orthodoxy against the Conservative insurgency.”

Gurock called Rabbi Klaperman “emblematic of that era.” ‘He had tolerance [and] personality,” said Gurock. “He understood the big picture in terms of American Jewry. Not everyone is going to be Orthodox or observant as the next fellow.”

Despite their differences, Gurock said that Rabbi Klaperman also ensured the various sects of Judaism got along. “That was an era when you disagreed theologically and you worked together on those things that united you,” Gurock said.

Rabbi Klaperman held late Friday night events in order to attract people to shul who might not make the davening. On a visit 10 years ago, a woman Rabbi Klaperman didn’t recognize stopped to say hello to him. The woman said that Rabbi Klaperman had officiated at her wedding in 1949.

After four years in Charlestown, Rabbi Klaperman received another phone call from Rabbi Belkin. There was a small hamlet in New York. There were some Jews there already, but there were very few Orthodox. The name of the town was Lawrence and there was a shul called Beth Sholom.

Lawrence And The Five Towns

“It was a nice little goyish town,” Rabbi Klaperman recalled. “We were the first and only synagogue. Today’s there’s a shteeble on every corner.”

At the time, Beth Sholom had 70 members. The shul was located in a private house after spending its first few years in a storefront. Under Rabbi Klaperman’s influence, the community began to grow. Tired of sending his daughters to Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, Rabbi Klaperman helped build Hillel, the first yeshiva in Nassau County (it would later become the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway). The school abutted the shul and shared the same parking lot.

Read the full article at the Five Towns Jewish Times.

{Michael Orbach-Five Towns Jewish Times/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Nice story. Will someone please let Rabbi Klaperman know that my mom, Florence Robinson will be 100 years old on July 12th and the official celebration will be held on July 14th. She would love to hear from him. He could call her at 407-540-8742. It will mean a lot to her. Happy belated birthday Rabbi Kaplerman.