Hebrew Academy of Cleveland President Dr. Louis Malcmacher reflects on the year gone by since the petirah of his friend and inspiration, philanthropist Mendy Klein z”l
Thursday marks one year from the day the Torah world was shaken by the sudden passing of Mendy Klein z”l. The Cleveland-based philanthropist who supported yeshivos, schools, the needy, kids at risk, and so many others had collapsed and passed away with no prior warning, leaving a gaping hole in the fabric of the community. The pain is still raw for those who were touched by him during his lifetime, and the void left by his passing is still profoundly sensed.
Dr. Louis Malcmacher, president of Hebrew Academy of Cleveland, lost more than just a dear friend that day. To him, Mendy was an integral part of his life, inspiring him and helping him shape his own relationship with avodas haklal.
Dr. Malcmacher lived in the same neighborhood, often davened in the same shul, and sat next to Mendy at seudah shlishis for a number of years. The Malcmachers and the Kleins would often vacation together, and on many Shabbos afternoons they would take a Shabbos walk together.
They were also partners in many projects that pertained to the tzibbur.
“Mendy and I were very close friends, and we would naturally have many conversations about personal matters,” Dr. Malcmacher reminisces. “But every conversation would drift to inyonei klal. That was his main focus.”
Mendy served as his role model in how to do chesed, never satisfied with merely making a donation.
“There was nothing that he was not involved in. And involved is really too shallow of a word to use for Mendy. When he was busy with something, it was with his whole heart and soul. Mendy did not just give money to individuals or institutions and then forget about them. He would exert time and energy into trying to improve the situations beyond the simple monetary donation.
“It was not that he would try to influence decisions with his personal opinions,” Dr. Malcmacher explains. “To the contrary, he greatly respected the mission of each organization. But he would never stop thinking how the mission could be fulfilled in the most effective manner. As a result, much of the chesed and tzedakah done in Cleveland bore the stamp of Mendy’s creativity.”
He mentions just two examples of Mendy’s influence on the city’s chesed landscape.
“Mendy was instrumental in the city’s matan beseiser, secret charities. He built up Gesher, a government program guidance system that he molded after Lakewood’s LRRC, which helped local residents access millions of dollars in aid that they would otherwise not have known they were entitled to. And there were so many others.”
He credits Mendy with shaping Cleveland into the Torah-rich city that it is today.
“He singlehandedly built up Cleveland, with an incredible drive to build kollelim. His devotion to the task changed the face of Cleveland, making it a desired destination for bnei Torah. Imagine taking 50 or 60 kollel yungerleit and dropping them into a community. It would change the community entirely. That’s what Mendy did.
“He strongly supported Kollel Yad Chaim Mordechai, under the leadership of Rav Yaakov Velvel Katz, and he subsequently became the driving force in the founding of the Hebrew Academy Kollel. He was also instrumental in the growth of Kollel Nachlas Yaakov, led by Rav Yakov Sonnenschein, and many others.”
Dr. Malcmacher pauses to mention Mendy’s wife, Ita, and their children and spouses, Yoni and Shoshi Klein, Amir and Edna Jaffa, Nati and Chanie Klein, and Shmueli and Dina Halpern.
“They were full partners in Mendy’s chesed. Everything he did was in conjunction with his aishes chayil and with the support of their children.”
Dr. Malcmacher stresses how Mendy never wanted to be a one-man-show, always wishing for others to join him in his holy work.
“It’s very common for people to want the attention when they give so much. Mendy was the complete opposite. He didn’t want his name mentioned. Although he was often the main askan in projects, he always wanted others to get involved as well.”
Dr. Malcmacher relates that he wrote an article about Mendy in the Yated after his friend’s petirah, and someone from Toronto subsequently approached him and commented that he had never heard of Mendy previously. Dr. Malcmacher was ecstatic.
“I told him, ‘You have just made Mendy’s neshomah so happy in Shomayim.’ That was his true goal – to get things done without people knowing who he was.”
Mendy would also always advocate for younger people to get involved in klal work, noting that the burden would fall on them some day to continue the avodas hakodesh.