Rabbi Wolli Kaelter, ‘A Rabbi’s Rabbi, a Mensch’s Mensch,’ Dies at 93

In a prayer for his ordination from the Hebrew Union College (HUC) in 1940, Wolfgang (Wolli) Kaelter wrote: “Grant us depth that we might understand, vision that we might see, and let us never become self-satisfied.”

Indeed, in his 93 years on this earth, his thirst for understanding and meaning never diminished; his ability to see, to fully encounter his congregants, family and friends never abated and he never rested on the laurels of his accomplishments. Indeed, he remained eager to learn, live and grow — never becoming self-satisfied.

The youngest of four children, Wolli was born in Danzig (now Gdansk) Poland) to Rabbi Robert and Feodora Kaelter. The world of his youth was destroyed yet he never despaired of the past, flourished in the present and was always thinking ahead. He was greatly influenced by his father (who died when Wolli was 11), his experiences in the German Jewish youth movement and his relationship with his teacher, Rabbi Leo Baeck. Baeck’s words, “The message is not the sermon…the man must be the message” are what guided his entire life and work. After studying for one year at the Hochshule fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, he and four other rabbinical students were invited by the president of the HUC, Julian Morgenstern, to study in Cincinnati. This courageous act in 1935 saved all five of their lives.

In 1953 he became the first director of Camp Saratoga, later Camp Swig, in Northern California. He had a deep commitment to the Jewish camping experience and believed that it was the best way to engage and inspire Jewish youth. A few years later, he became rabbi of Temple Israel in Long Beach where he served until his retirement from the active pulpit in 1979.

He was known as an innovator of worship, a creative programmer, a dynamic educator, a leader of interfaith activities, a gifted counselor, and an inspiring cantor. He believed that the rabbi should take the “p” out of preaching. For him, it was all about reaching, engaging and dialogue.

After his so-called retirement, he continued counseling, writing and officiating at life-cycle events. He had boundless energy and seemed to always be available for listening. Hundreds of people could tell their own personal “Wolli stories” about a man who was both so deeply reverent and irreverent at the same time.

For 25 years he taught practical rabbinics at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He inspired hundreds of students with his keen insights, his human understanding, his humor and his high standards. He wanted the students to develop their character, their vision and the principles that would guide them as rabbis.

He shared his thoughts on life, the rabbinate, relationships and death in his autobiography, “From Danzig: An American Rabbi’s Journey” (written with Gordon Cohn). At the core of his life was a continuous desire to find meaning – from the largest event, to the structure of a Hebrew word. Listening to classical music was his anchor, his source of inspiration. He shared more than six decades of his life with his wife, Sarah.

Integrity, intellectual curiosity, innovator, stubbornness, devotion to high standards and fiercely committed to making Jewish life relevant are what marked the life of this man who was both larger than life and also so profoundly human and humane. For me, for so many, he was our rabbi, our teacher, our colleague and our friend. His longevity on earth was not his real blessing; rather it was the quality of his life and his legacy that above all it is the “I-thou” relationship which makes life most meaningful.

He is survived by his children Judy (Ray) Nakelsky and Baruch (Donna) Kaelter; and six grandchildren.

I ended his eulogy by citing the words of the poet Ingersoll: “He added to the sum of human joy; and were everyone for whom he did some loving service to bring a blossom to his grave; he would sleep tonight beneath a wilderness of flowers.”

— Rabbi Lee Bycel is executive director, Western Region of American Jewish World Service

Bernice “Bunny” Diamant, Docent and L.A. Developer, Dies at 84

Bunny Diamant, cover girl on the Jewish Journal Mothers’ Day issue, May 10, 2002, was a native Jewish girl made good. She died Jan. 4 at 84.

She married her Dorsey High School sweetheart, A.C. Black, raised three daughters and helped in creating a very successful development/construction company responsible for many award-winning apartments, individual homes, marina properties; Deauville and Bar Harbor apartments and boat docks, as well as Wilshire San Vicente Plaza in Beverly Hills.

After her divorce in 1981, she became very active in the Jewish community volunteering, starting as a docent at the Skirball, then located near USC. She contributed in many ways, including the move to present location in 1996, as supervisor pro bono of Docent Development; and planning of the Noah’s Ark Park when it was still just a twinkle in the eyes of Skirball management. She was also president of University Women at what is now known as American Jewish University.

She met and married Dr. Emanuel Diamant in 1990 and they enjoyed each other’s companionship for the 17 years. They worked together and independently at the AJU and Skirball and were members of Temples Ner Tamid in Palos Verdes, where Manny was a founder, and Kehillat Ma-Arav in Santa Monica. She was an inspiration to everyone she met.

She is survived by her daughters Susan (David) Black-Feinstein, Diane (Earl) Quick and Belinda (Michael) Borden; six grandchildren; three great-granddaughters; nieces; nephews; cousins; and extended family.

Louis Bernard died Dec. 23 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Thelma; sons, David (Dorothy) and Jonathan (Marie); daughter, Michelle Mazur; and 21 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Leon Blank died Dec. 23 at 99. He is survived by his daughter, Jeannie (Hal) Murray; son, Jonathan (Rochelle); seven grandchildren; one great-grandchild; and sister, Betty Loterstein. Mount Sinai