Posts Tagged ‘Irene Klass’
May Irene Klass be a melitza yosher for her family, friends, and the entire Jewish community. Amen.
Irene Klass, Rebbetzin Esther Winner and Helen Schwimmer
Dora Zegerman and Irene Klass enjoying each others company at the
Project Neshama Dinner – June 7, 2001
Irene Klass was a shomer, constantly keeping a watchful eye on her flock. May she continue to be a devoted guardian of the Jewish people.
Helen Zegerman Schwimmer is the author of “Like The Stars of The Heavens,” an anthology of articles originally published in The Jewish Press. To learn more please go to helenschwimmer.com
During my 25 years as an editor at The Jewish Press, I accumulated many fond memories of Irene Klass, a”h.
When I started my career at The Jewish Press, I had just become a grandmother of a baby girl. This began a wonderful period of personal and professional changes for me. As a former teacher, where one of my duties as an educator was to teach and advise a staff of aspiring journalists of the school newspaper, I appreciated the chance to work at a real newspaper. Being an editor at a popular Anglo-Jewish weekly newspaper opened new vistas for me. And, as a bonus, I had the pleasure of working for the legendary Irene Klass.
Way ahead of her time, Irene wrote many articles offering advice on subjects like hand washing and the potential damage caused by loud music at smachot. Those issues have finally caught up with today’s generation. Today, the media’s focus on hand washing to prevent illness and avoid spreading disease (along with the frantic use of hand sanitizers), and the danger to one’s hearing from the persistent loudness of bands and electronic music on iPods, is a testament to her forward thinking.
Rabbi Sholom Klass, z”l, andIrene, with theirextraordinary devotion to promoting many important issues affecting the Jewish community, used the influence of The Jewish Press to bring those issues to light – long before there were other Anglo-Jewish publications. Rabbi Klass’s Torah articles brought the light of Torah to The Jewish Press’s readers. I remember how Irene would never go to an event without a batch of the paper’s latest issue.
Both Rabbi Klass and Irene had a great sense of humor, and I remember the many delightful conversations I had with each of them. I enjoyed many phone conversations with Irene on every subject from raising children to editing columns in the Magazine section, from recipes for various favorite foods to the best cure for a cold. When I drew my first illustration for one of the columnist’s stories Irene wanted in the Magazine section, my fate was sealed. From that point forward, there were many opportunities to provide a picture to complement the content of the columns. I looked forward each time to fill any open spaces on the pages with a drawing. And Irene never failed to express her appreciation.
What I remember most, however, is her kindness toward and concern for everyone with whom she came in contact. Her generosity and chesed to anyone who she learned was in need is well known. Rabbi Sholom and Irene Klass instilled this trait in their children, Naomi Klass Mauer and Hindy Greenwald, who continue to emulate their parents’ wonderful example of tzedakah and chesed.
Still ringing in my ears, as I remember conversations we had during which I said something that amused her, is her infectious laugh that would warm anyone who had the privilege of generating such hearty laughter.
Irene Klass will be missed by everyone who knew her. May her entire family be comforted by all the fond remembrances offered, and may her memory be a blessing.
I was deeply saddened by the petira of Mrs. Irene Klass, a”h, wife and daughter of Rabbi Sholom Klass, z”l and Mr. Raphael Schreiber, a”h, founders of The Jewish Press. Although our paths only crossed once – and just for a minute – that one very brief encounter had a lasting, positive impact on the quality of my life. The handful of words that Mrs. Klass, a complete stranger, said to me ignited a flicker of light on the gloomy road I was on, a light that was to grow stronger and brighter with the passing of time. Almost comically, this encounter took place over 25 years ago in a swimming pool at the Homowack Hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
I don’t remember why I was there; perhaps there was a Shabbaton that weekend and I needed a time out from the emotional turbulence I was engulfed in. It was a time of great turmoil in my life, when “happily ever after” was not the in the script of my personal storybook.
I do recall being in the pool and talking to a friend. We must have been chatting about family, for the discussion led to my telling her of a wrenching, bittersweet experience I had many years earlier in Israel, the summer before the Yom Kipper War. It ironically also involved a brief encounter with a stranger – an elderly Holocaust survivor (a rarity in 1973, since at the time of the Shoah, he was middle-aged. He, like millions of other Jews his age would have been deemed unfit to work and “selected “to be gassed.) We were at a gathering, and I saw a relative of my mother’s walk over to him, and point to me. His tired face got animated and he got out of his chair, shuffled over to me, shoved his face close to mine, peered intensely at me and said in Yiddish, “Aah, du bist Klein Shimmele’s einikel”. “Ah, you are little Shimon’s grandchild.”
He told me that he had been my grandfather’s boyhood friend, that they would skip school to fish and swim in the river, and would get into all sorts of mischief. And then he shook his head sadly and walked away.
I was stunned and shocked. In my lifetime, I had never been referred to as a grandchild. I was a daughter; sister; cousin; friend, – but I had never been an einikel. My childhood association with my parents’ parents – who were murdered by the Nazis – were flickering yahrzeit candles and being shooed away before Yizkor.
I simultaneously savored – and mourned – what to me was a sweet yet bitter moment – the first – and last time I would ever be someone’s grandchild.
Out of nowhere I heard a quiet, refined voice say, “What a moving story.” I turned and a slight, older woman smiled at me and said, “Please write it down and send it in to The Jewish Press.” When she saw my surprise and possible skepticism, she told me that her name was Irene Klass and if I mailed the article to her, care of The Jewish Press (email and computers were in their infancy at that time), it would get into the paper. And then she swam away.
I did write the story down, and mailed it – and true to her word, it was published. There, in the largest Anglo-Jewish newspaper in the world, a newspaper distributed in English speaking communities all over the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Australia, South Africa, etc. were several hundreds of my words and my thoughts – with my name above in bold lettering!
In today’s world of instant global communication via email, blogging and You-Tube, where just about everyone can showcase their thoughts, opinions and experiences, having an article accepted in a newspaper is not a big deal.
But back then, it was a big deal for most people. And for me, especially, it was a very, very big deal. At that time in my life, I was floundering in a sea of negativity, buffeted by endless waves of denigration and put-downs that threatened to wash away my self-esteem. Irene Klass, with her sincere invitation to me to write an article for her popular, internationally distributed newspaper – conveyed to me that I did indeed have something of value to offer. And my drowning ego was given a rare, badly needed buoy.
I, like many people found myself in an environment where support and encouragement were the exception, rather than the rule: Not out of actual malice, I believe, but due to genuine cluelessness. In some instances, however, I had to associate with people I can only describe as mean-spirited bullies. The tips of the verbal arrows they aimed at me were saturated with criticism, disapproval and censure. My appearance; my weight; how I dressed; my hairstyle; my speech (I have a life-long lisp) – were scornfully scrutinized and dismissed as being substandard, inferior. This denigration even spilled over onto the one thing I was supposed to be good at – writing. I remember deciding to enter a short story contest in a women’s magazine – fantasizing over what I would do with the $1000 prize. As I put a sheet of paper into my typewriter, I was told not to bother – there was no way I was going to win.
Yet the wife of the publisher of The Jewish Press, an editor herself, was asking me to write an article for her esteemed newspaper.
My mother, a”h, an Auschwitz survivor, once remarked how even a small morsel of food could revive a depleted body and keep it going. Irene Klass had innocently given me a morsel of validation that fed my depleted self-esteem and revived it.
And she kept on giving me more morsels. Shortly after my first article was published, I sent in another to her. And that too was put into The Jewish Press. And then another. And another.
Initially I was surprised – it was understood that Mrs. Klass would put in the first one – after all, she asked me to write it. But why did she put in the “unsolicited” articles? The ones who had told me I couldn’t win; that I wasn’t good enough; that I was second tier; that I didn’t measure up – they couldn’t all be wrong, could they?
Continuous acceptance of my articles that evolved into a long-running column and recognition, words of praise and letters of approval from readers who wrote in or stopped me in the street, in the ensuing weeks and months and years, clearly indicated that they were.
When Irene Klass declared that I had something worthy to share with thousands of people – she unwittingly launched my first tiny step on a long journey of self-discovery. She had gently squeezed the “lemon” that I was told I was – and showed me that I was actually “lemonade.”
For me, the memory of Irene Klass will always be for a blessing.
I was in Brazil, speaking to the Jewish community of Sao Paulo, when the sad news of the petira of Irene Klass reached me. Many memories, many scenes, many conversations and experiences flashed through my mind. With Irene’s passing, a whole era – a whole way of thinking, of values, of goals, of idealism – disappeared. Irene had a sense of mission and never allowed politics, petty jealousies or territorial considerations to influence her.
Irene was a visionary, a woman who loved Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael with a passion. She was prepared to climb every mountain to overcome every obstacle for what she knew was our G-d-given heritage and she clung to this goal tenaciously and uncompromisingly.
I first met Irene many, many years ago. I was a newlywed, and my husband, HaRav Meshulem Halevi Jungreis, zt”l, and I were spending the summer at the Pioneer Hotel in the Catskills. I was lecturing and was in charge of shiurim for the day camp. We shared a table in the dining room with Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l, and his Rebbetzin, Irene. At that time, Reb Sholom was the editor and publisher of The Brooklyn Daily and he and Irene shared with us their vision of creating a paper to be known as The Jewish Press which would not only report the news, but, more significantly, bring the message of Torah into every Jewish home.
Irene suggested I write a column, and then the discussion came up as to the subject on which the column should focus. My husband immediately suggested that I offer practical advice and guidance. “After all,” he said, “who can do that better than you who were nurtured and taught by the great tzaddik, your father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham Halevi Jungreis, zt”l?”
Next the question arose as to what the column should be called. Without hesitation, I replied, “If I were to undertake this challenge, I think I would call it “The Rebbetzin’s Viewpoint.” In those days, the title “rebbetzin” – being identified through your husband’s profession – meant you had no identity of your own, and the very title “rebbetzin” connoted that you were who you were only by virtue of your husband’s profession.
“I would like to make the title ‘rebbetzin’ popular and respected,” I said, “so that little girls would aim to become rebbetzins just as they hope to become teachers, nurses or professionals.”
Thus began my relationship with Irene, and with every passing day it grew stronger. She never hesitated to pick up the phone to tell me when she found my article to be particularly good. Her integrity was such that she was always happy to give credit to someone else.
Some years later, I had a vision to start Hineni, a ba’al teshuvah movement that would inspire the Jewish people to say, “Here I am O G-d, ready to do Your bidding, ready to serve You and reach out to our brethren.” In those days, assimilation was rampant and Orthodoxy was ridiculed and looked on as atavistic. I knew I would have to do something extraordinary to reach out to our Jewish community, something that would electrify our people and awaken the “pintele Yid” in them.
To call for such a happening in a synagogue would be futile – young people would simply not come. In those days, Israel Bonds held events in Madison Square Garden at which stars of stage and screen would perform. Often, I mused about how amazing it would be if we could fill the Garden to disseminate Torah and mitzvos. So it was that my vision of awakening and inspiring our nation was born.
Many times I shared my hopes with Irene and she always encouraged me. “What a wonderful idea!” she would say. “Go for it. The Jewish Presswill be there to back you and to help you spread the news.”
To be sure, there were many hurdles to overcome. I didn’t as yet have a viable organization. I had no funds. I was a young rebbetzin with very small children. But my holy father and my esteemed, beloved husband kept telling me, “Uverachticha b’chol asher ta’aseh” – “You need only do it, and the blessing will come from G-d.”
And so it was that, Baruch Hashem, we filled the Garden. The night of the program Irene not only sent a reporter to cover the story, she herself came and insisted on writing up the event. Never was there even a twinge of the “politics” or territorialism that unfortunately marks today’s Jewish scene.
With the help of G-d, that night in the Garden was more than we could have ever anticipated. Thousands were inspired to come back, to explore their roots, to embark upon a voyage of Jewish self-discovery, as the arena resounded with “Shema Yisrael.” On that night, I related the awesome story of our people; I spoke of everything we’d experienced from the genesis of our history. Among the many subjects on which I touched was the silence of the Church and its acquiescence to the annihilation of our people throughout history and during the years of the Holocaust.
As a result, a prominent Catholic priest wrote an inflammatory letter of condemnation to The Jewish Press. Irene asked me if I would like to respond and I immediately accepted the challenge. I wrote a lengthy dissertation documenting the history of the Church vis-a-vis our people throughout the long, painful centuries. The Jewish Press placed the article in its centerfold, and the response was spectacular. Thousands upon thousands of requests for copies flooded the paper and Reb Sholom and Irene published more than 100,000 copies to fill the need.
Irene, I would like to tell you – for I know you are reading this column from the heavens above – that just recently I met with the chief rabbi of the IDF and he told me that for many years now, when teaching the history of our people to the troops, he’s referred to this column.
So, Irene, yasher koach for having had the courage to back me in my stand and for placing that story on your front page as well as in the centerfold.
There is much more that I can write about Reb Sholom and Irene. I could write of the thousands of Jews who’ve told me over the years that The Jewish Press was their first connection to their faith – that it was through The Jewish Pressthat they discovered Torah.
So once again, Reb Sholom and Irene, thank you for having made a difference in our Jewish world. You will never be forgotten, and will always remain in our hearts.
Rest easy, dear friend. Be at peace in the knowledge that your work continues through your dedicated children whose lives are devoted to that which you and Reb Sholom began, May your neshamah have an aliyah and find its repose among the righteous of Israel.
As someone who was intimately involved with the trials and tribulations of this newspaper for over a decade, both as a reporter and editor, I was privy to many of the fascinating stories that revolved around Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l, and his rebbetzin, Irene Klass, a”h.
It is safe to say that the breadth and scope of their chesed and tzedakah will be almost impossible to duplicate. Millions of dollars in various forms of charitable donations were quietly channeled to hundreds of individuals, yeshivot and organizations over the years. The Klasses did not do this for the awards, publicity or ego trips. In fact, Rabbi Sholom Klass did not enjoy being in the limelight at all.
During my tenure at The Jewish Press, there were occasions when a yeshiva or organization that had benefited from the Klass’s loyal generosity wouldn’t think twice about saying something bad about them. I know how much some of these unwarranted criticisms hurt the rabbi and rebbetzin on a personal level. On one particularly disturbing occasion, I prodded the rabbi by saying this: “Enough is enough. I want to tell the olam about how much money you and the rebbetzin have poured into these people and organizations. Let me write [about this]. Let me expose the hypocrisy. Without your generosity and the amount of publicity you’ve given them in the paper over the years, they would be nothing.” Though I know he felt betrayed and disgusted, Rabbi Klass looked me straight in the eye and calmly replied, “Steve, please don’t say or write anything.”
There were several occasions when Rebbetzin Klass would call me from her modest home in Manhattan Beach and ask to hold space at, or even past, the deadline for an item about a certain chesed cause that had inspired her imagination. Even if it meant taking dictation over the phone, you could not refuse the rebbetzin. Her determination to help an individual or an organization was paramount, even if it literally meant yelling, “stop the press!” As much as I could be frustrated as an editor trying to meet a deadline, I was equally in awe of the fact that Rebbetzin Klass refused to be shackled by the boundaries of time. On the surface the rebbetzin might have appeared to be frail, but her feisty spirit and uncanny ability to make a splash wherever she went transformed her into a larger-than-life figure.
Rabbi and Rebbetzin Klass provided the Orthodox Jewish community in New York and in many other areas of the U.S. with a coherent English-language voice when it was politically and religiously incorrect for a shomer Shabbat Jew to publicly raise his or her voice. Back in the 1960s, who had ever heard of a mass circulation Jewish newspaper championing the causes of building mikvaot in New York and adhering to kashrut consumer laws? Whoever read a Jewish newspaper that emphasized Torah and hashkafa, featured page after page of news from Eretz Yisrael, and highlighted bylined columns from both Menachem Porush and Yitzhak Rabin?
Rabbi and Rebbetzin Klass provided a pioneering pulpit for the fledgling yeshiva world, Orthodox organizations, and various charities to disseminate information to the community formerly unavailable to them until The Jewish Press came into existence. Without The Jewish Press, many yeshivot and Jewish organizations might have ceased to exist. The Jewish Press was also the first Jewish newspaper to provide a venue for the neophyte kosher food industry, which spurred the growth of kosher consumerism and glatt kosher culinary trends.
And I could go on and on about the endless chesed practiced by Rabbi and Rebbetzin Klass.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the legacy of Rabbi Sholom and Rebbetzin Irene Klass, who devoted their lives to the proliferation of Orthodox Jewry in America.