The Cleveland community—and klal Yisrael in general—was left reeling with the news of the unexpected passing of renowned philanthropist and community activist Reb Mendy Klein, z”l, who suffered a fatal heart attack on Lag BaOmer. He was 65.
Reb Mendy was extremely devoted to his beloved community of Cleveland, which he joined 40 years ago, as well as to Jewish causes throughout the world. He gave with an open hand, providing support for both major communal needs as well as for individuals in need. In Reb Mendy, everyone found a listening ear, a caring heart and a giving hand. He was scheduled to be honored with the National Leadership Award at the Agudath Israel Convention on May 29. Instead, the presentation will be made in his memory.
A son of Holocaust survivors, Reb Mendy was born in Hungary and grew up in the Satmar kehillah in New York. As a very young bachur, he learned in the Tosher Yeshivah, where he developed a lifelong relationship with the Tosher Rebbe, zt”l. When he went into business he would consult with the Rebbe before engaging in new business ventures and he took the Rebbe’s advice as law. For several years he lived in the Rebbe’s home and served as one of his hoiz bachurim. He also learned b’chavrusa with the Rebbe’s son-in-law, Rav Avrohom Katz, with whom he remained close for the rest of his life.
Reb Mendy was a self-made man who was always an extremely hard worker. At the age of 16 he borrowed money to launch a taxicab business. He moved to Cleveland a short time later. He ran a fruit and vegetable business for over a decade. In those years, he was far from wealthy, yet his giving nature was already evident. He helped others in any way he could within his limited means.
Having grown up in Cleveland, I witnessed his kindness first-hand. I recall attending bar mitzvahs in the shul in which he davened and the way he would make sure every guest felt comfortable, had a place to sit and received a nice bowl of cholent. This concern for individuals on a relatively small scale personified his life as he went on to succeed in the business world and care for thousands of institutions and individuals on an extremely large scale.
Reb Mendy founded Safeguard Properties in 1990, and over the years built it up into a huge enterprise with hundreds of employees. The revolutionary success of this business came about due to the far-reaching vision that characterized him. While running his business he simultaneously ran the Robert and Ita Klein Charitable Foundation, which supported scores of Jewish causes within the Cleveland community and beyond.
He was a visionary who had a clear view of the flourishing community he knew Cleveland could become. To this end, he was a pillar of support for every school, yeshivah, kollel and chesed organization in town. When there were schools and yeshivos in Cleveland that were facing severe financial difficulties, Mr. Klein stepped in and saved them, taking personal responsibility for their continued viability.
His close friend, Mr. Harry Brown, related at the levayah that Mr. Klein once looked out of his window and declared, “I want this street to look like Lakewood. We are going to build yeshivos. We are going to build kollelim. We are going to turn Cleveland into an ir v’eim b’Yisrael.”
Over 3,000 people attended the levayah at the Hebrew Acadamy of Cleveland’s high school building. Another 1,000, including people in Israel, heard the hespeidim via live video or an audio feed.
The revitalization of the city in recent years into a vibrant and flourishing Jewish community is largely a credit to Reb Mendy’s broad-mindedness and far-seeing vision for Cleveland, and it is largely appreciated that the incredible growth of the community could not have happened without him.
As someone who felt other people’s pain, Reb Mendy was very passionate about helping children suffering from abuse, young people suffering from addiction, women in abusive marriages and people suffering from all kinds of abusive situations.
As was his way, once Reb Mendy realized the scope of the problem he immediately took action, founding and serving as chairman of the Amudim organization, which is headed by Rabbi Tzvi Gluck. Another of the many initiatives that was dear to his heart was the restoration of Kever Rochel; he donated a very large amount of money for refurbishing the entire Kever Rochel compound.