Mendy Klein – an Exemplary Askan and Baal Tzedakah, and My Dear Friend

Mendy Klein
R-L: Mendy Klein, Shlomo Werdiger and Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, at the Agudath Israel Am Echad Mission in February 2018. (Shloime Cohen/Agudath Israel)

I first met Mendy 15 years ago. Since then, we have gone away together for every one of the Shalosh Regalim. On the day of his petirah, we had been making plans for Shavuos.

I spoke to Mendy almost on a daily basis.

Our families are close — our wives, children and grandchildren. Just this Pesach, I spent hours each day with Mendy. We talked about our families, but mostly we talked about chessed and our tafkid in life — that, baruch Hashem, the Eibershter has been good to both of us, and we need to give back. Mendy was consumed with that — always thinking about how much more and more he could do, and most importantly, with passing down this passion for helping others to his mishpachah; that we both should imbue our children and grandchildren with an understanding of the importance of our work in tzedakah and askanus.

Every askan gets countless solicitations for help, but Mendy is one of the only ones I knew who took every request and every letter to heart. Every tzarah in Klal Yisrael bothered him deeply. Sometimes you get so many of them that you can sort of get numb, but not Mendy. He took everything personally and responded accordingly.

Several years ago, Mendy came to New York for the annual Chush breakfast at my home. Afterward, he asked some of the participants to stay, and had a few other people come, and we went down to my basement to discuss another urgent issue that Mendy was very involved in: the need to assist victims of childhood abuse and people suffering from drug addiction. Mendy spoke about this heartbreaking problem in his own passionate way and, from this meeting, the Amudim organization was founded. Of the many tzedakos and causes Mendy was involved in, Amudim was among those closest to his heart.

Mendy was a member of Agudath Israel of America’s board of trustees, of which I am currently chairman. Mendy recently encouraged Agudah to open an office in Cleveland. He was going to use the office as an umbrella chessed organization for Cleveland. That’s pretty much what Mendy was — the umbrella for chessed in Cleveland, and well beyond.

I chaired Agudah’s Am Echad Mission to Israel in February, which Mendy and his wife, Ita, participated in. Mendy was very active in this mission, as with everything else he was involved in. At many sessions — particularly one with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon — Mendy spoke eloquently about how growing and vibrant the frum community in the United States is, and that we are the power to be reckoned with, and how the future of Klal Yisrael in Israel is in hands of the Orthodox. Afterward, many of the politicians remarked at how impressed they were with Mendy’s presentation.

Mendy and I were to be honored at this month’s Agudah dinner. He was a private person and didn’t agree to accept many honors, but when I approached him and asked him to do this with me, he spoke to his wife and they both agreed they would absolutely do it — because of our friendship, but more importantly because he understood the important work of the Agudah and its national role.

Mendy would tell me all the time that Agudah saved Cleveland — that one of the biggest reasons Cleveland is among the fastest-growing young frum communities in America is that, largely through the efforts of the Agudah, Ohio yeshivah parents get $4,600 tuition vouchers, which has been a significant inducement for young parents to move there.

The Agudah dinner will be held as scheduled — Mendy certainly would have wanted it to. Of course, we will have a heartfelt tribute to Mendy. I’ll have to work doubly hard to ensure that it will be a tremendously successful dinner, so that Agudah can continue to do what it does. The holy work of Agudah must continue.

Mendy never forgot his humble origins. That was one of the reasons we were such good chaverim: we had similar stories, and we realize that just as money can be “easy come,” it can be “easy go.” If Hashem gives you wealth, you make the most of it and do the best you can with it while you have it.

It was unusual for us to agree to be honored. We were not crazy about it, but did it for the greater good: to show Agudah how much we are machshiv it, and to demonstrate to our children and set an example to the younger generation of askanim that they have to be out in the public, even when it is naturally uncomfortable, for the sake of the klal.