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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rabbi Sidney Kleiman, Oldest Rabbi At Synagogue in NY Turns 100

The Cossacks, the Holocaust, the establishment of the Jewish state, war and peace and war again — only one American rabbi has lived through it all.

On Sunday, Rabbi Sidney Kleiman of Congregation Adereth El in Murray Hill turned 100, the latest milestone for the longest serving spiritual leader at the city’s oldest continually operating synagogue.

“God was good to me,” Kleiman deadpanned on his birthday, which he spent like any normal day: he was the first to arrive at the E. 29th St. shul and the last to leave.

Kleiman led the antebellum Adereth El from 1939 to 1999, and during that period built the congregation even as the neighborhood changed from families to singles.

"This synagogue was built during the Civil War, and he's been here half of that history,” said the current rabbi, Gideon Shloush. “There were people still alive from the Civil War sitting in the pews" when Kleiman first walked up to the bimah.

He grew up poor in the South Bronx, and when he couldn’t afford bus fare, he’d walk to his classes at Yeshiva University in Manhattan and sell stationery door-to-door along the way.

Eventually, he took over the leadership of Adereth El, which was founded in 1857 by German Jewish immigrants and moved to its current home in 1863. He remained in that role for 60 years, from the cusp of World War II through the Oslo accords.

“You know whenever he's in the room,” said Mark Mayo, 62, who joined the temple in 1980. “You don't even have to speak to him to know he's bringing an extra holiness to the moment.

“He found a way to keep this place alive because he's such a true Jew,” Mayo added.

Kleiman wouldn’t have it any other way.

"If I wasn't born a Jew, I'd make myself a Jew," he said, adding that anti-Semitism remains a persistent concern.

“People are against us,” he said. "Anti-Semitism is hidden, it's lurking. But we are a creative, dynamic people. We'll overcome by living a great life, by making everywhere we are a blessing.”

By Peter Moskowitz / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

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