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Rabbi, scholar Jacob S. Halpern ‘thrived’ from Holocaust

Rabbi Jacob S. Halpern

A noted Jewish educator of the 20th century, Rabbi Jacob S. Halpern’s career almost ended before it began. He was a Holocaust survivor, in and out of Auschwitz, Plaszow and Mauthausen concentration camps.
So many times, according to his son, his life “hung by the narrowest of threads.”
“My father’s life should have been extinguished in the 1940s,” Halpern’s son, Marc, said in his eulogy. “He was once saved when a machine gun jammed as a Nazi officer was mowing down a line of slaves. My father was one of the next slaves to be killed, but he ran when the gun jammed.”
Halpern died Monday, April 30, 2018, in Louisville, surrounded by his family. He was 93.
Born September 11, 1924, in Krakow, Poland, a son of Rav Mayer Halpern and Sarah Frankel, who died in 1941, Halpern survived to become a talmudic scholar of his day and a leader in the Jewish National Fund (JNF).
Marc preferred to call his father “a Holocaust thriver,” not a survivor.
“My father was never a victim [of the Holocaust],” Marc said, “rather he proactively defined his life after liberation from concentration camp.”
After the war, he studied at Yeshiva University in New York, having little knowledge of English, and went on to become founder and principal of Hollis Hills Jewish Center – five years after his liberation.
He taught at the Yeshiva of Flatbush and became the assistant director of Camp Masad, a Hebrew-speaking camp in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, for 10 years.
He also was the principal of the Jamaica Jewish Center and, along with his wife, Gilda, a co-founder of Camp Columbia and the Mid-Island Hebrew Day School.
At 45, he made Aliyah.
His first job in Israel was director of Machon Greenberg, a premiere teacher’s institute for Hebrew and Judaic instructors from North and South America.
He returned to the Uinited States for three years to become the principal and curriculum coordinator at Beit Shraga, a Hebrew day school in Albany, New York. But he returned to Israel to become the executive director of global education at the JNF.
Though headquartered in Jerusalem, Halpern traveled extensively for his job, visiting day schools in 40 countries.
Before retiring, Halpern became principal and curriculum coordinator for the Eliahu Academy in Louisville. Within a few years, he tripled the enrollment at the school.
Over his life, Halpern is thought to have mentored some 1,000 Jewish community leaders.
Halpern is survived by his beloved wife of 69 years, Gilda; brother, Aron; sons, Marc (Zehava) and David (Ariella); grandchildren, Ronen (Jenny), Tal (Anton), Oz (Amber), Jodi (Aleksey), Jonathan (Liz), and Mia (Adam); and great-grandchildren Eliana, Eli, Julian and Axel.
Funeral services were held Wednesday, May 2, at Herman Meyer & Son, Inc., 1338 Ellison Ave. Burial followed in the Adath Jeshurun Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, expressions of sympathy may be made to Hosparus Health of Louisville.

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