web analytics
January 30, 2015 / 10 Shevat, 5775
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Rabbi Kleiman – Still The First One In Shul

Rabbi Sidney Kleiman

Rabbi Sidney Kleiman

It’s not often that I get to speak to a rabbi about to celebrate his 99th birthday.

Last week I visited Rabbi Sidney Kleiman, who has served as rabbi (now rabbi emeritus) of Manhattan’s Congregation Adereth El for over 70 years. Hired in 1939, Rabbi Kleiman still attends minyan every morning without fail. “I’m determined to do so,” he told me. “I’m the first one in shul because I believe that minyan is the most important part of Judaism today. If people come to minyan every day, then Judaism will endure.”

In a sense, Rabbi Kleiman’s age perfectly fits his synagogue, for Adereth El is New York’s oldest continually used synagogue building. Founded in 1857 by Bohemian Jews, the congregation constructed its current building on East 29th St. (between Lexington and Third Avenues) in 1864.

The synagogue originally possessed a German character – the traditional prayer on behalf of the government, for example, was recited in German until 1899 – but by the time Rabbi Kleiman came to the shul, Russian Jews had taken it over, and its rabbis delivered sermons in Yiddish.

Times were changing, though. “My first drasha was in Yiddish,” Rabbi Kleiman recalls, “but the American kids didn’t understand Yiddish. They said, ‘Rabbi, speak in English,’ so I did.”

Not everyone was happy. “When I preached my first English sermon, a fellow [named] Goldberg walked out and made a whole tumult,” Rabbi Kleiman said. Nonetheless, most of the congregation supported him. “They were trying to get the American youth back to Judaism,” Rabbi Kleiman explains. “Not many Jews were observant; everybody was going away from Judaism.

“When I came here there was nothing. It was a non-Jewish neighborhood. I had to build it up. I used to get on the telephone and call up people for minyan. Sunday morning I would call, and they would say, ‘Hey, rabbi, I want to sleep.’ I said, ‘Never mind sleep, come to shul.’ They resented me for what I did, but that didn’t stop me.”

Synagogue attendance was not the shul’s only difficulty. The Great Depression naturally hit the synagogue hard, and Rabbi Kleiman remembers congregants donating coal and suits instead of money. “They donated a suit to the chazzan and shamash, but the shamash resented it. ‘I don’t want your suit. Give me cash,’ he said. It was a tough period.”

I asked Rabbi Kleiman, who was born in New York City, why he decided to enter the rabbinate in an era when so many others pursued more “American” and lucrative careers. “As a child,” he replied, “I used to go to a synagogue on 146th St. in the Bronx. The rabbi was Rabbi Abraham Naphtali Gallant and I was inspired by his talks to become a rabbi. My family thought I was crazy. ‘That’s not a job for an American boy,’ they said. They wanted me to become a lawyer, but I insisted.”

To that end, Rabbi Kleiman attended the newly established Yeshiva College, receiving his semicha from Rav Moshe Soloveichik. “He was a great man,” Rabbi Kleiman recalls, noting, however, that he “wasn’t as strict as [his legendary son] Yosef Ber.” He also remembers the school’s founder, Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel. “He was a big scholar and very dedicated to the yeshiva. He liked me and encouraged me.”

Achieving his goal was not easy. Due to an accident, Rabbi Kleiman’s father had to have his leg amputated, and Rabbi Kleiman was forced to assume responsibility for supporting his family. “I became a salesman. Every day I would walk from my house to the yeshiva, going into all the candy stores and selling them stationery.”

“He’s really an inspiration,” said Rabbi Gideon Shloush, 40, Adereth El’s current rabbi. “He’s impacted so many lives over so many decades. He continues to give drashos. That’s an amazing thing – he’ll get up and speak with no papers for 10-15 minutes. People are very inspired; they love to hear him. He kept this shul going, and now, remarkably, we’re seeing a resurgence and revitalization of the community.”

I asked Rabbi Kleiman if he sees himself as a role model. “I’m not interested in setting myself as a model,” he said. “I’m not that big a man. My name is Kleiman, which means ‘small man,’ kleiner mann. I’m just happy to do what I do, and if people want to follow my example, so much better.”

Adereth El is celebrating Rabbi Kleiman’s birthday next Shabbat, January 28. Rabbi Kleiman will deliver the sermon. Rabbi Shloush asks that people e-mail their memories of Rabbi Kleiman, and tributes, to info@aderethel.org.

About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and author of “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books).


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Rabbi Kleiman – Still The First One In Shul”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
You are looking at an "armed insurgent" and not a terrorist, according to the White House.
Obama Wins War on Terror By Saying It Doesn’t Exist [video]
Latest Indepth Stories
IRAN-US-POLITICS-MILITARY

An Israeli strike could theoretically damage Iran’s nuclear program; only US can terminate program

Israeli-flag

At some point we need to stop simply defending and promoting Israel and start living in Israel

Rabbi Berel Wein

“We Jews are the only people who when we drop a book on the floor pick it up and kiss it.”

Rabbi Sholom Klass

Though Zaide was the publisher of The Jewish Press, a big newspaper,I always remember him learning

Speaker Silver has been an extraordinary public servant since his election to the Assembly in 1975 and has been an exemplary leader of that body since 1994.

He spent the first leg of his daylong visit to the French capital at Hyper Cacher.

Drawing Congress into the Iran nuclear debate is the last thing the White House wants.

Great leaders like Miriam and like Sarah Schenirer possess the capacity to challenge the status quo that confronts them.

Obama’s foreign policy is viewed by both liberals and conservatives as deeply flawed

Many journalists are covertly blaming the Charlie Hebdo writers themselves through self-censorship.

Why does the Times relay different motivations and narratives for jihadists in Europe and Israel?

To defeat parasites-the hosts of terrorists-we need to deny them new people, potential terrorists

Combating Amalek doesn’t mean all who disagree with you is evil-rather whom to follow and to oppose

Desperate people take what they can, seizing opportunity to advance their main goal; the Arabs don’t

More Articles from Elliot Resnick
Resnick-012315-Artist

Nouril concluded he had no choice: He had to become more observant.

Richard Dukas

I was very pro-Israel, I was very proud of being Jewish, and I was living in New York at the time as a single man in my 20s and I was just looking for a little bit more.

A school voucher means the state is giving you a voucher to send your kid to whatever school you want. That might be problematic as far church-state issues are concerned.

It’s not an admiration. It is simply a kind of journalist fascination. It stands out, it’s different from more traditional Orthodoxy.

To many Orthodox Jews the issue is “Permitted & Prohibited;” “Right & Wrong” barely considered,

You can’t say “Jewish French,” “Jewish British,” “Jewish Italian.” They are “French Jews,” “British Jews,” and “Italian Jews” – because they’re seen as Jews first and residents or citizens of their countries second.

Another thing they have been covering up is the nature of the building that was attacked. To this day people refer to it as a consulate or an embassy, but it wasn’t.

The reality is that civility is less important than clarity, and right now only very few people on the Left are interested in having a civil conversation about the merits of particular policy solutions.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/rabbi-kleiman-still-the-first-one-in-shul/2012/01/19/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: