R abbi Sidney Kleiman of the historic Congregation Adereth El will be celebrating his 98th birthday later this month. He is both the longest-serving and oldest active congregational rabbi in the United States. Rabbi Kleiman, now Adereth El’s rabbi emeritus, has served the congregation since 1939. We caught up with him for this special occasion.
When I arrived in 1939, there were few Jews here. Just merchants of retail stores. Most lived in the suburbs. Getting a minyan during the week was tough, but since then the neighborhood built up with more Jews. Many doctors and professionals have come to live here in the city.
The Jewish future is very bright. The history of the Jewish People shows that we go through difficult periods. We suffer. But we always come back. The key is to be connected and to be a part of the experience. How do we ensure it? Make minyan. Come to Shul on Shabbat. Observe the holidays. Help Israel.
To be kind to people and encourage them down the path of the Torah. As Hillel teaches us in Pirkei Avot: Be of the followers of Aaron the Kohen Gadol. He was one who loved peace, ran after peace, loved people and brought them closer to the Torah.
Most Memorable Event
Getting hired! In 1939 they asked me to come down and try out for the position. I preached a sermon and then, after Shabbos, I went back home to the Bronx. I hadn’t even made Havdalah for my family when the phone rang. We elected you as the rabbi of Adereth El. I was perfectly happy at my prior pulpit (the Jewish Center of Violet Park) but they were insistent. I’ve been here now for more than 71 years.
Regrets or Do-Overs
I’d do the same thing. I taught a lot of Torah. I led services and I tried to do kindness wherever I could. I was chaplain in Bellevue hospital for 50 years.
In his tenure, Rabbi Kleiman saw the outbreak of WWII, the establishment of the State of Israel and all its wars, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, Y2K and 9/11. He is a witness to history and a living testimony to the vitality of our people. He’s in synagogue every day, attends classes, delivers occasional sermons, runs his errands and lives life to the fullest. May God bless him, give him strength and may he continue to be a source of inspiration to our community and People.
– Rabbi Gideon Shloush, Adereth El Rabbi since 1996
Congregation Adereth El is an Orthodox synagogue located at 133 E. 29th St. Founded in 1857, its current membership reflects the diversity of its neighborhood, Murray Hill. During the workweek, many Jewish businessmen with nearby offices pray at the synagogue. The congregation now includes a number of young, single members due to the growing popularity of Murray Hill with this population.
Birthday Celebration Details
On Shabbat, Jan. 29, the synagogue, led by Rabbi Gideon Shloush, will host a celebration Shabbat and Kiddush in Rabbi Kleiman’s honor. All are welcome. The rabbi’s actual birthday is on Jan. 27, 1913. (www.aderethel.org).
JInsider gives a major Yasher Koach to Rabbi Kleiman. With all of the kvetching about the politics of synagogue life and the fiscal difficulties of running a shul, here is an amazing man who continues on as a Rabbi for all seasons. Biz Hunderd un Tzonzweig (May you live until 120).
Why 120? "This is because the Torah tells us that ‘Moses was 120 years old when he died’ (Deuteronomy 34:7), and his life was deemed perfect and complete. Other leaders who lived until the age of 120 include Hillel, Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai, Rabbi Akivah, and Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi. Each were giants in their time.” (Chabad.org)