May 21, 2019

Rabbi Solomon F. Kleinman, social justice advocate, founder of first synagogue for the deaf, 95

Rabbi Solomon F. Kleinman, who served as rabbi of Temple Ahavat Shalom (TAS) in Northridge from 1973-1986, died Oct. 9. He was 95.

His rabbinic career included a wide range of accomplishments, including serving as Southern California regional director of Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now Union for Reform Judaism) for eight years. During his tenure, Kleinman was responsible for bringing many congregations, as well as Camp Swig (which closed in 2003), under the auspices of the Reform movement. He also made Judaism more accessible to the deaf by founding in 1960 the Southern California-based Temple Beth Solomon of the Deaf, the first synagogue for deaf Jews in the world. 

“Those who go back to the Kleinman era cannot enter the synagogue without feeling a deep sense of gratitude and full recognition that TAS would not be the congregation it is today without Rabbi Solomon F. Kleinman’s inspiring leadership, enormous dedication and vision for the future,” a statement from TAS congregants Phyllis and Hal Bass says. 

Born in 1920 in St. Paul, Minn., Kleinman was raised in a Conservative Jewish household. His father was a Conservative rabbi.

As a young man, Kleinman attended the University of Washington and served in the United States Air Force before deciding to pursue the rabbinate. Breaking from his family’s denomination, he was ordained in 1952 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, a Reform seminary. 

His first stint as a pulpit rabbi was with Temple Beth El in Niagara Falls, N.Y. 

In 1956, he moved to Los Angeles with his wife of many decades, Shirley Rickles, who died several years ago.

He was a vocal supporter of social justice issues before it was common for rabbis to speak out about such topics, according to TAS Rabbi Barry Lutz, who was hired by Kleinman. 

“He was a very eloquent voice about issues of social justice,” Lutz said in a phone interview. “He challenged people to think.”

A resident at the Los Angeles Jewish Home in recent years, Kleinman remained interested in the goings-on of TAS. 

“He was very interested and committed to Ahavat Shalom,” Lutz said. “I saw him on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I had lunch with him and I was telling him about how we did some new kind of very creative, artistic, decorative sukkah in our social hall. He said, ‘You have to take me over there, I have to go see it.’ He held on to that interest, and had a witty, dry sense of humor that he had until his last days as well.”

Kleinman is survived by his daughter, Sandra (Conrad) Rogers, his son, Joel (Margit) Kleinman, and his grandchildren, Sarah and Gideon Kleinman.

Contributions in his honor can be made to TAS, which will hold a memorial for Kleinman on Oct. 30, Lutz said.