Reb Moshe Dovid Kupperman was born in Cracow, in 1924, into a family of Bobover chassidim. He attended the yeshivah of the Kedushas Tzion, z”ya, spending Yamim Nora’im with the Rebbe and two Pesach Sedarim in the Rebbe’s home.
He and, tbl”c, his wife Perel Chana (Anya) came to the U.S. after miraculously surviving the Holocaust, and, with great siyatta diShmaya, built an empire of hachzakas haTorah and abundant gemilus chassadim. They built and supported Torah institutions in their Queens neighborhood and far beyond; the impact of their vision and action is ongoing and immeasurable.
Queens became home to waves of Jewish immigrants in the early 1990s. Rabbi Yossi Hoch, a community askan, recalls how Reb Moshe Dovid Kupperman, z”l, helped establish Binas Chaim, currently serving approximately 500 children from the Russian and Bucharian communities. Generations of these children and their families bear proud testimony to the success of their chinuch.
“It never would have happened without Mr. Kupperman,” attests Rabbi Hoch.
Reb Moshe Dovid was instrumental in helping establish the Yeshiva Ketana of Queens. A few years later, he sponsored two buildings of Beis Feiga in Lakewood. A third building, named Beis Anya in honor of Mrs. Kupperman, is under construction.
Reb Moshe Dovid’s focus on chinuch has poignant roots. Before being deported to the concentration camps, he was in the Polish ghetto with his father and younger brother Menachem Mendel. The upheaval created by Hitler’s invasion of Poland included the disruption of Jewish education. The lack of a rebbi and cheder was a source of tremendous grief and worry to the boys’ father. He was especially worried about Reb Moshe Dovid’s younger brother, who had not learned much at all by the time Hitler arrived.
Moshe Dovid, an older, mature bachur, told his father, “We learn from Yaakov Avinu that in an eis tzarah one makes a neder. I promise you, Tatte, that after this terrible tzarah is over, I will ensure that my brother’s chinuch will continue.”
The day Reb Moshe Dovid was liberated would have been the day of his younger brother’s bar mitzvah. By that time, however, the little boy’s neshamah had ascended to the Yeshivah shel Maalah, one of six million kedoshim.
But Reb Moshe Dovid never forgot his promise. He viewed his magnanimous support of chinuch as the fulfillment of his promise to his father, and a way to honor his beloved parents and brother.
During the tumultuous war years and the post-war transition, Reb Moshe Dovid did not have many opportunities to learn. After he married and began to raise a family, his love of Torah lay dormant while he struggled for survival.
That changed one day when Mrs. Kupperman went on an errand to the grocery store. An elderly woman walked in, holding a large sefer. “This was in my apartment,” she announced. “Does anyone want it?” Mrs. Kupperman, intrigued, thought her husband might be interested. “I’ll take it,” she said. She brought the sefer — a Gemara Chullin — home to her husband. He opened it and became like the proverbial wanderer in the desert who, finding a spring, drinks thirstily and endlessly, relishing the taste, the refreshment, the life in every precious drop. From that day forward, he returned to his Gemara, to chavrusos and shiurim. His thirst was never quenched, and Torah became his everlasting joy.
For 15 years, he attended the Tuesday night Gemara shiur of Harav Hershel Shechter. He would also sit down with business associates to learn for hours.
Two years ago, Reb Moshe Dovid was honored by Shaare Zedek Hospital. Rabbi Shechter was asked to present the award. Mr. Kupperman, moved by his rebbi’s words, immediately expressed his hakaras hatov: “Thank you, Rabbi Shechter. I would like to inform you that I intend to order a set of tefillin for your newborn grandson.”
He always made good on his assurances in a prompt manner. When he made a pledge to tzedakah, it was paid the next morning.
Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, senior Rav of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, had a longtime relationship with the niftar. “He knew,” averred Rabbi Schonfeld, “that without chinuch we are lost. He wanted to provide chinuch for every kind of Jew. And his wife encouraged his great work. She was a full partner in his tzedakah and chessed, and proud of what he did.
“He was an exceptional human being — an accomplished talmid chacham, a kind and considerate individual, me’urav im habriyos and very respectful toward Rabbanim. A humble man, he lived modestly, devoid of ostentation… He spoke softly and politely, and expressed his opinions respectfully. We developed a close bond. I was heartbroken when I heard of his petirah.”
Reb Moshe Dovid gave Rabbi Schonfeld money to cover the tuition of many needy yeshivah students. This was done on condition of anonymity. Neither the yeshivah nor the talmid knew who had paid the tuition.
When young families in Yeshiva University’s kollel had a hard time finding apartments, Harav Shechter asked Mr. Kupperman, who owned buildings in the area, whether he could assist. He was happy to help them obtain suitable apartments. At one point he asked his rebbi, “Why should you take time away from your learning to call me on behalf of these talmidim? Tell them to call me directly and say that you sent them.”
Mr. Kupperman donated funds for Laniado Hospital’s maternity wing, and sponsored the purchase of important and expensive medical equipment. He helped build the dental clinic of Kolel Chibas Jerusalem in Ashdod. He generously assisted Bobov, Slonim, Tiferes Yisrael/ Chofetz Chaim and many other mosdos and individuals.
Churban Europe was indelibly seared into his soul. He referred to the letters KL, in the number tattooed on his arm, as standing for “Kodesh LaShem.” Rabbi Hoch remembers that when the baal tefillah, during Yizkor, davened the Kel Malei for the kedoshim of Europe, Mr. Kupperman grew upset. “They don’t need the Kel Malei,” he protested. “Those who went through that gehinnom are already kodesh.”
After Binas Chaim’s building was purchased, a small celebration was held. Reb Moshe Dovid kept expressing his thanks to the askanim for allowing him to take part in this worthy project. Mrs. Hoch, who met the Kuppermans for the first time, was impressed with the refined, noble and humble bearing of these unassuming philanthropists. “This couple has such dignity,” she said with admiration. They were efficacious wardens of the resources with which Hashem blessed them, using them to further eternal goals.
Before the war, Reb Moshe Dovid’s father hid several family treasures. Years later, Reb Moshe Dovid’s uncle returned to their hometown and retrieved the objects, including a silver menorah, which Mr. Kupperman repaired and used each year. It symbolized his life’s mission: to replace what was lost, repair what was broken and let beauty and kedushah shine brightly once again.
In Kew Gardens Hills, he davened for many years at the shul of Rav Yosef Gelernter, zt”l, of which the Rav’s son-in-law, Harav Henach Savitsky, later became Rav. During the last few years of his life, he davened at the shul of Rav Yaakov Bergman.
Harav Savitsky spoke of the niftar’s tremendous love of learning and great hasmadah. He learned the entire Tur on Orach Chaim, three times with Beis Yosef and once with the peirush of the Bach.
He loved children, and enjoyed distributing treats to youngsters who came to shul. Wherever he went, he spread warmth, wisdom and light.
May the light of Reb Moshe Dovid Kupperman, z”l, shine forever, and may Hakadosh Baruch Hu comfort his beloved wife, his daughter Wendy (Binah), and all who knew and loved him.
Yehi zichro baruch.