Rabbi Yehuda Lieb Kelemer, zt”l, 74, is credited with leading the West Hempstead, Long Island, community to flourish over the past number of decades, assuming the role of mara d’asra of the Young Israel of West Hempstead in 1983. Rabbi Kelemer began his rabbinic journey in Switzerland and later served as the rabbi in the Young Israel of Brookline, where Bostonians would often visit to ask halachic queries.
The rav, in his humility, reflected the growth of the community. He viewed himself as just another community member, but he was ultimately much more. Rabbi Kelemer was known to be quite reserved, with a humble exterior. Yet he had a poignant and unmatched vibrancy that allowed him to lead his congregation with intense passion. This energy led to varied programming in the shul for children, adults and the growing senior population of the neighborhood. The rav had a special place to include newly marrieds who joined the community with high hopes to raise Torah-observant families.
Shortly after assuming the role of rav of West Hempstead’s Young Israel, Rabbi Kelemer was at the forefront of the creation of the Orthodox Union’s Yachad, where developmentally challenged youth were given a chance to shine in the mainstream Jewish world. His Young Israel set the precedent for shuls around the world to bring disabled adults to the bimah for an aliyah and deliver Torah sermons.
Over his career, the rav, a talmid of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, of the famed Mirrer Yeshiva, amassed a kehillah of 700 families joining the ranks of one of the fastest-growing Orthodox communities in the United States, attracting Yidden from well beyond the tri-state region. As a young prodigy, Rabbi Kelemer developed a deep bond with his rosh hayeshiva, Rav Mordechai Gifter, zt”l, during his stay in Cleveland’s Telz Yeshiva. Later in life he published a multitude of Torah texts and was turned to for guidance in the complexities of kashrus. Also notably, Rav Shalom Yosef Elyashiv, zt”l, and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l, would send questions to the desk of Rabbi Kelemer.
Rabbi Yaniv Meirov, CEO of the Chazaq Organization, said, “Rabbi Kelemer, zt”l, was the cherished uncle of our rosh hayeshiva, HaGaon Rav Aharon Walkin, zt”l, who was niftar several months ago.” Rabbi Meirov also pointed out, “Many West Hempstead families find their start in Kew Gardens Hills. Rabbi Kelemer has long been a force in creating the unique opportunity for young Jewish families to settle and prosper. Each day I see his efforts sparkle in our events coordinator Robbie Aboff, a member of his kehillah. May his legacy, and that of Rav Walkin, be a merit for all those they motivated in Torah and Judaism.”
Rabbi Simcha Hopkovitz, rav of the Young Israel of Hewlett and a maggid shiur in Yeshivas Toras Halacha in Kew Gardens Hills, reflected, “Rabbi Kelemer was a formidable scholar and kind gentleman. As busy as he was, he always had time for anyone and everyone. His close to 40 years in Hempstead proved pivotal in growing Orthodox Jewish life in Long Island.”
Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, at the helm of Beis HaKnesses of North Woodmere, added, “Rav Kelemer, zt”l, was a tzadik whose Torah greatness was concealed only by his extreme humility and gentle nature. The rare community rabbi was universally revered.”
Rabbi Kelemer has been ill for the past number of weeks and his petirah this past Friday was a shock to the community. The rav’s father-in-law, HaRav Shmuel Dovid Walkin, zt”l, was the son of the Beis Ahron and helped saved thousands during the Shoah, and his mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Tzivia Walkin, a”h, was close family friends of the Chofetz Chaim. Rabbi Kelemer is mourned by his beloved Rebbetzin Ruchie, the extended family, and all the Torah generations he influenced and inspired.
Personal accounts can be relayed to the family via email, [email protected], and the levayah from this past Sunday can be viewed at https://livestream.com/accounts/17077440/events/9477510/videos/215834983.
Yehi zichro baruch.
Shabsie Saphirstein is a freelance feature content writer covering topics of Jewish interest, current events, local politics, and international happenings. His writings regularly appear in the Queens Jewish Link and its sister publication the Bukharian Jewish Link, among other leading Jewish weeklies. He can be reached at [email protected]