In Memoriam Mendel Kaplan (z l) 1936-2009

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In Memoriam Mendel Kaplan (z"l) 1936-2009. An Inspiration to Us All: Mendel Kaplan Devoted His Life to the Jewish People. For over 50 years, Mendel Kaplan devoted himself to the Jewish people.
In MemoriamMendel Kaplan (z"l)1936-2009An Inspiration to Us All: Mendel Kaplan Devoted His Life to the Jewish PeopleFor over 50 years, Mendel Kaplan devoted himself to the Jewish people. A Zionist, philanthropist and visionary, his sudden death on November 19th at the age of 73 has left shock waves throughout the international Jewish community.Born in Cape Town, South Africa, he was a lawyer by training and held degrees from Cape Town University and Columbia University. He owned and operated a family business that manufactures steel, steel wire and wire products.  Mendel Kaplan dancing with the Torah at the dedication of the synagogue he donated to the Jewish Agency in memory of his parents, Jessie and Isaac Kaplan.Together with his wife Jill Lazar Kaplan, he raised four children and encouraged them to be involved and engaged in Jewish life and giving. With a true belief in education and excellence, Mr. Kaplan’s foundation also provided over 2500 bursaries for higher education for his employee's children, and for Ethiopian and Druze students in Israel.Mr. Kaplan led numerous Jewish and Zionist projects to fruition over more than 50 years of community service in his native South Africa, Israel and the Diaspora. He was a great moderator and helped to bring people together, to overcome divergences of opinion and to heal divisions. Mendel Kaplan with his wife, Jill, at a  Keren Hayesod conference in 2007.In 1980 he and his brother Robert established the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town. Mr. Kaplan also founded the South African Jewish Museum, opened by Nelson Mandela in 2000.His ardent belief in pluralism and tolerance facilitated his involvement in countless endeavors, advocating on behalf of the Jewish people in South Africa, Israel and around the world. Mendel Kaplan with Natan Sharansky and a young participant at a Jewish Agency conference in 1990. A real friend to the Jewish Agency, he was a member of the Board since the 1970s, and he served as Chairman of the Board of Governors from 1987 until 1995 and as Chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation from 1996 until 2000. He was also an esteemed member of the Jewish Agency’s Executive and he co-chaired the Resource Development Committee. He served as the former National Chairman of the United Israel Appeal of South Africa.From 1983 to 1987 Mendel served as Chairman of Keren Hayesod's World Board of Trustees and he served as honorary president of Keren Hayesod from 1995 until his death. Under his guidance, the Jewish Agency was instrumental in bringing thousands of Soviet and Ethiopian Jewry to Israel in the late 80s through the mid 90s.Mendel Kaplan with Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1990s.A determined man he was unstoppable when he set his mind to something and he was always three steps ahead, full of inspiration and passion. While he was the kind of man who was friends with dignitaries and politicians alike, he never separated himself from the rest of the community.This past April, Mendel welcomed nearly 100 immigrants from South Africa in a moving ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.Mendel Kaplan welcoming new immigrants from South Africa at a Jewish Agency ceremony at the Western Wall on April 22, 2009He bestowed upon them the priestly blessing and wished them the best of luck as they built their new lives in Israel. During Mr. Kaplan’s last official visit to Israel, he himself received his identification card at the Western Wall. It was a fitting tribute to a man who considered Israel his spiritual home."Mendel was indisputably one of the great Jewish and Zionist leaders of our time. Mendel was a giant among men, an innovative industrialist who used his wealth for the betterment of his fellow Jews, countrymen and the State of Israel."- Natan Sharansky, current Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive, and Richie Pearlstone, Chair of the Board.Mendel Kaplan with former Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek (left) and the conductor Zubin Mehta (foreground). “Your personal vision and dedication and love of the Jewish people and your family is an inspiration to us all," -Max Fisher, businessman, philanthropist and founding chairman of the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors, in a 1995 letter to Mendel Kaplan on the occasion of his completing his term as Chairman of the Board of Governors.Mendel Kaplan with Shimon Peres."I recognize in you… the qualities of a real leader of the Jewish people. You have developed over the years into a real statesman and to us you are the epitome of everything we stand for….Need I say that in eight years you have transformed the [Jewish] Agency into one of the finest institutions of Jewish survival…Just think more than 500,000 Jews from Russia in three years…for this you should be proud as we are of you."- Max Fisherin a 1995 letter to Mendel Kaplan on the occasion of his completing his term as Chairman of the Board of Governors.Mendel Kaplan (right), with his mentor, the businessman and philanthropist Max Fisher (center) and Charles Bronfman (left) in 1998.
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