Rabbi Yoel (Julius) Klugmann, z”l


Rabbi Julius Klugmann, an iconic figure in his Washington Heights community for his fight to preserve the ancient German mesorah and keep the memory of its Gedolim alive, was niftar on Wednesday, mourned by a wide circle of family, friends and admirers. He was 90.

Rabbi Klugmann, a staunch member of Agudath Israel of America since he was recruited by Elimelech (Mike) Tress, z”l, had a particularly close relationship with Harav Elazar Shach, zt”l, carrying out assignments tasked him by the Rosh Yeshivah of Ponovezh with ne’emanus.

Rabbi Klugmann, who escaped his native Germany together with his entire family shortly before the Second World War broke out, never forgot his mesorah. He discovered the manuscript of Rabbeinu Ephraim and Rabbeinu Yoel, two German Rishonim, and published it along with the Rokeach, written by another German Gadol.

“Some people like nice furniture,” his wife, Mrs. Clara Klugmann, said. “He liked the Rokeach.”

“His goal was to make [German sefarim] available for the public,” a daughter-in-law said. “Not to make money — never.”

His siddur of choice that he used to daven from was with the peirush of the Rokeach. Yanky Klugmann, a grandson, said that after his grandfather’s petirah Wednesday he went to his house and found the siddur, worn out from decades of use.

Rabbi Klugmann had a love for Gedolim, and he, in turn, was loved by them for his devotion and erlichkeit.

“Reb Yoel has a gutte shmek — a fine sense of smell — for what needs to be done” for Klal Yisrael, Harav Elya Svei, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivah of the Yeshivah of Philadelphia.

The night before Harav Shach established the Degel Hatorah party, he said to Rabbi Klugmann, “Yoel, daven for me.”

“Where should I daven for you?” he replied.

“By the brachah of Atah chonen,” Rav Shach said.

Rav Shach’s son-in-law, Harav Meir Tzvi Bergman, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Rashbi, would stay at the Klugmann home whenever he comes to the U.S.

Yanky Klugmann said that his grandfather merited an extraordinarily close relationship with such disparate Gedolim as Harav Reuven Grozovsky — who, together with celebrated Vienna askan Julius Steinfeld, he considered his rebbi in askanus — Harav Aharon Kotler, Harav Moshe Feinstein, the Satmar Rebbe Harav Yoel Teitelbaum, the Steipler and Harav Berel Soloveitchik, zt”l.

“He was tremendously connected to talmidei chachamim,” Yanky Klugmann said. “His love for talmidei chachamim was supernatural.”

Rabbi Klugmann used to thank Agudah, since through that organization he was able to gain access to these Gedolim.

But he did not limit himself to the previous generation. Rabbi Klugmann had no problem traveling to hear divrei Torah from people much younger than him, ybl”c, such as Harav Yisroel Dovid Shlesinger of Monsey, Harav Simcha Bunim Cohen of Lakewood and Harav Yaakov Horowitz, the Rav of the Telzer Minyan in Boro Park.

“How much hashpaah could I get only from someone who is not alive?” he would say.

During a trip to Eretz Yisrael in the early 1950s, he made the acquaintance of the Brisker Rav. When he expressed a wish to move to Eretz Yisrael, the Brisker Rav told him that he needs him rather to stay in the United States to arrange his affairs and help him raise money for his yeshivah.

Over the next several years, Rabbi Klugmann singlehandedly raised all the money for the Brisker Yeshivah. During that time, Brisk even came before his own business.

Born in Nuremburg in 1923 as one of three children of Reb Avraham (Alfred) and Fradel (Fanni Guggeheim), when Julius was 16 years old, the family, frightened by the event of Kristallnacht, came to the United States. They joined the growing Breuer’s kehillah in Washington Heights, Khal Adas Yeshurun, where the mesorah and nusach flourished the same as it did hundreds of years ago.

In the U.S., Julius married Klara Jeidel, also a German יmigrי who survived by joining a Kindertransport to England before making her way to New York. A family member said that the couple had a model marriage. He would not do anything — whether it was personal, business or askanus-related — without discussing it with her beforehand.

Rabbi Klugmann established a successful hair accessories business called Alkinco Hair International, which he used as a base of askanus operations, from raising money for Brisk to executing a shlichus from Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, to performing routine Agudah work.

Up to his last week, Rabbi Klugmann concerned himself with the needs of the klal, even expressing his worries about the giyus bnei yeshivos in Eretz Yisrael.

“When he was finished with a project he was never satisfied,” Yanky Klugmann said. “It was always, ‘OK, on to the next project.’”

Rabbi Klugmann enjoyed excellent health until well into his 80s. He slipped and fell several weeks ago, requiring a hospitalization and convalescence at a rehab center. But he contracted an infection and was niftar on Wednesday morning.

The levayah took place at the Breuer’s shul. Maspidim included Dayan Yaakov Posen of Washington Heights, Harav Lipa Geldwerth and Rabbi Dovid Klugmann, a son. Harav Malkiel Kotler, Rosh Yeshivah of BMG, spoke by the kevurah.

Kevurah was in the Khal Adas Yeshurun chelkah in Clifton, N.J.

Rabbi Klugmann is survived by, ybl”c, his wife Klara and children, Reb Avrohom, Reb Gavriel, Reb Dovid, Reb Reuvain, Reb Binyomin, Reb Michoel, Mrs. Ester Bistricer, Mrs. Ruth Freundlich, Mrs. Yehudis Fried, Mrs. Naomi Grunhut, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Shivah will be observed at 461 Fort Washington Ave. until Tuesday morning.

Yehi zichro baruch.