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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Rebbetzin Klass’

Remembering A Dear Friend: Rebbetzin Irene Klass, a”h

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

What is it about a diamond that makes it the most valuable gemstone known to man? For one, it is known for its superlative physical attributes, mostly due to the strong covalent bonding between its atoms, giving it an extraordinary toughness. It also possesses remarkable optical qualities, being largely resistant to impurities, which gives the stone a pure and lustrous appearance. Finally, when properly honed and cultivated by adding multiple facets, its innate beauty is further enhanced and accentuated. This description, I believe, applies equally to my very dear friend, Rebbetzin Irene Klass, a”h; she was like a diamond in every respect, and a rare one at that.

My first experience with Rebbetzin Klass goes back to 1990, when I was invited by the New York Mets to open one of their ballgames by singing the national anthem. To the best of my knowledge, it was a first for the Mets, and perhaps in the history of baseball, that an anthem singer at a Major League game would be wearing a yarmulke. My close friend, Chaim Kaminetzky, who thought it too auspicious an occasion to let go unnoticed, called The Jewish Press, hoping they would assign a reporter to cover the event. We were fairly confident the newspaper would deem it sufficiently newsworthy, but what we didn’t expect, was for Rebbetzin Klass to declare that she herself would be present in the Shea Stadium Press Box to cover the event, and that she would also be writing the article. After completing my anthem duties on the field, I took a hike up to the press box to pay Rebbetzin Irene a courtesy visit, which marked the beginning of a warm friendship that continued until her passing.

It is no surprise that Rebbetzin Klass knew very little about baseball, but what did take me a bit by surprise was her child-like eagerness to experience something new – even at her rather advanced age (in fact, the first sentence of her article was a quote from her husband, the eminent Rabbi Shalom Klass, a”h, which was: “You’re joking, aren’t you?”). But this was the world of Rebbetzin Irene Klass, and it was a big world indeed, where nothing escaped her keen interest and curiosity.

Rebbetzin Irene’s antennae were always up, not only when it came to new experiences, but also when there was someone out there in need of kindness or a helping hand. I learned this soon after our relationship began, when she called me to request that I sing at the wedding of a young lady who recently arrived in the United States from the former Soviet Union. It was then that I learned three things would always be true when Irene Klass asked me for a favor. One, it would never be for herself; two, it would be very worthy of my time, and three, she would not be taking no for an answer. After a few such occasions, I came to understand how Rebbetzin Irene Klass employed her powerful role as matriarch of The Jewish Press – that is, directly and forcefully, but always politely and quietly.

Just seeing Rebbetzin Irene invariably boosted your spirits. She would greet you with the usual twinkle in her eye, and then would promptly turn and sing your praises to the person next to her. But one had to be careful not to be deceived, as this was not your typical “sweet old lady.” Though quite petite in stature (she was barely 5 feet tall), when it came to defending the Jewish People, she instantly morphed into a lioness protecting her cubs. Anyone who had the temerity to express an opinion to Irene Klass that offended her ironclad principles would be cut down to size very quickly, and those who mistakenly tried it – did not do so again.

Whenever we spoke, Rebbetzin Irene never forgot to inquire about my family, my daughter in particular, who was critically ill during the early years of her life. After nearly losing our daughter so many times, my wife and I learned very quickly to appreciate every day we had with her, and thus birthdays in particular became grand milestones. In one phone conversation with Rebbetzin Irene, which took place shortly before my daughter’s birthday, I joyfully informed her of our impending occasion. “Ira, what are you doing for her, for this special occasion?” She inquired. “We’re making a birthday party for her, of course!” I replied. “Not enough” she retorted without missing a beat. “This year, you’re going to do something special,” and then told me to expect a phone call. Within an hour, I received a call from Dovid Nachman Golding (aka “Ding”), Uncle Moishy’s manager, who informed me that he was under strict instructions from Rebbetzin Irene, and all he needed was a time and place. That Sunday, just in time for the party, Uncle Moishy was at my door.

Legacy Of Unassuming Chesed

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/legacy-of-unassuming-chesed/2010/12/01/

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