Philanthropist Mendel Kaplan dies, 73

Philanthropist Mendel Ka

mendel kaplan 248.88 (photo credit: )
mendel kaplan 248.88
(photo credit: )
Mendel Kaplan, a prominent leader of the South African Jewish community, died in South Africa on Thursday evening at the age of 73 after suffering a massive stroke on Tuesday. His funeral will be held in Capetown at 2 p.m. Sunday. He was a major figure in the world of Jewish organizations, especially renowned for promoting and mobilizing the issue of Soviet aliya after the fall of the Soviet Union. "Mendel was the most well-known southern African Jewish philanthropist, and will be sadly missed both in Israel and abroad," said Maish Isaacson, chairman of Telfed. Kaplan will be remembered as "a very committed Jew who continued to study Judaism until his last day," Alan Hoffman, director-general of the Jewish Agency's Education Department and a close friend of Kaplan's, told The Jerusalem Post. "He was a great Jewish leader who managed to go beyond South Africa," said Hoffman, adding that Kaplan had been gifted with a unique ability to combine "an enormous commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people and the ability to solve problems and deal with global Jewish issues." Hoffman, himself a director of Jewish education, stressed that Kaplan had championed Jewish education "before it was popular." "Mendel was one of those who understood before anyone else that unless Jewish education is at the center of the agenda of the Jewish people, there won't be a Jewish people," he said. "It's a very sad day for the Jewish people." Kaplan was a great Zionist who owned a house in Jerusalem's Yemin Moshe neighborhood and a house in Caesaria. He was an Israeli citizen, and the last official ceremony he attended in the context of a Jewish organization was a Kotel event in which South African olim received their Israeli identity cards. Kaplan served as chairman of the board of the Jewish Agency from 1987-1995, chairman of Keren Hayesod's World Board of Trustees from 1983 to 1987, and honorary president of Keren Hayesod from 1995 until his death. Kaplan was also chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation from 1995 to 1999, national chairman of the United Communal Fund of South Africa from 1974 to 1978, national chairman of the Israel United Appeal, South Africa from 1978 to 1987, and vice president of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. Born in South Africa in 1936, Kaplan matriculated at the Wynberg Boys' High, received his law degree from the University of Cape Town in 1958 and his MBA from Columbia University in 1960. He was awarded honorary doctorates from UCT, Yeshiva University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. An industrialist, he ran a family business called Cape Gate, manufacturing steel, wire and wire products in Israel and abroad. A billionaire and philanthropist, Kaplan made his fortune in the South African steel industry. He was known in the Jewish organizational world as a quiet donor to the poor who did not seek any publicity for his donations. He also wrote several books, including From Shtetl to Steelmaking and Jewish Roots in the South African Economy. A great lover of archaeology and one of the first funders of the City of David excavation, he was also involved in a large number of social projects in South Africa and in Israel. Kaplan's death was not unexpected, said family members, some of whom were already on their way to South Africa at the time of his death. He is survived by Jill Lazar Kaplan and they have two daughters, two sons and grandchildren. Since 1974, the Kaplan family has shared residences in Israel and South Africa.