by Jill Belmont and Lisa Lieb, Beth El Publicity
As Rabbi Myer S. Kripke marks the milestone of his 100th birthday, salutations and reminiscences have come pouring in from current and former congregants and colleagues. Following are just some of those greetings:
From Rabbi Jules Harlow, liturgist and Founding Editor of the Rabbinical Assembly: “Whenever I go to my office at The Jewish Theological Seminary, I pass the entrance to The Kripke Tower. And that is not the only time that I think of him. I grew up in Sioux City, where we always looked to Rabbi Kripke in Omaha as the leading rabbi in our part of the world.
Rabbi Kripke’s printed comments on the weekly sidrah were always interesting and, more important, pro-vocative, leading to ideas you may not have thought of or encountered before.
As a teacher of the importance of hiddur mitzvah, enhancing ritual with fine art, he was responsible for commissioning unique silver ritual objects for Beth El’s pulpit and sanctuary. This was the work of the craftsman Ludwig Wolpert, whose work at that time (the nineteen fifties) was considered to be much too radical by many people.
In a booklet published by The Rabbinical Assembly honoring colleagues who, at that time had been serving as rabbis for fifty years or more, Rabbi Kripke’s contribution consists of just a few lines. They reflect the life of the person who wrote them: ‘The rabbinate is a profession where opportunities for service and mitzvot are endless.’
Rabbi Kripke continues to be our teacher in this and in other dimensions of our lives.
We are truly blessed with the presence of Rabbi Kripke in our lives. Thank you, Rabbi Kripke. B’virchat shalom, Rabbi Jules Harlow”
From Charlotte Zipursky, congregant: “Rabbi Kripke married us 63 years ago. We still hold him responsible. He has, through those years, been our friend. He saw to the B’nai Mitzvah of our three children. He helped us grieve the loss of our parents. He helped us understand the emotional roller coaster of emotions that a rabbi experiences in his position with the congregation.
He was my teacher when a group of young wives and mothers studied with him in the 60’s and 70’s. We were supposed to be studying the Mishnah and the Gemorrah, but truth be told, we learned more about life. Judaism, yes. Jewish life. We all loved those sessions and we loved him.
He was, and remains to this day, the picture of what a rabbi should be. If the meaning of his sermons floated over our heads it was our fault – not his. He never talked down to us. Erudite, yes. Compassionate, yes. Human, oh yes.
There are many personal moments to share. What I’d like the world to know is that we have great respect and admiration for Myer Kripke, and he has earned it. Knowing him, getting a kiss from him, has been an honor we hope we deserve.”
From Caryl Greenberg, congregant: “Rabbi officiated at our wedding and was with us to celebrate Bucky’s second Bar Mitzvah. My favorite time with Rabbi Kripke was with our ‘Coffee with the Rabbi’ group. We met every other week and we always had a particular topic, article or book to discuss. The discussions would often veer off in many other directions – always serious, always meaningful, always interesting, and always pertinent. We felt that Rabbi enjoyed these sessions as much as we did.”
From Dr. Ron Wolfson, former Beth El congregant: “Let’s talk about Rabbi Kripke! A brilliant scholar, a wonderful teacher, an author of insightful words illuminating the Bible, a good friend, a wise counselor, a terrific raconteur and joke teller, and a lover of all things chocolate, baseball (he played shortstop) and Big Red football. How lucky we are that he chose Omaha for his extraordinary rabbinate!
If we are the ‘people of the book,’ the Kripkes are the ‘family of the book!’ Let’s Talk About God, the most wonderful book about God for children (of all ages!) ever written, was my introduction to the talented Kripke clan. Dorothy Kripke, may her memory always be a blessing, was the author, and she became quite well-known throughout the Jewish world as more and more people discovered the book. The volume was the first in a series of Let’s Talk About books that gave Jewish parents the wise words about Judaism to share with their children.
Rabbi Kripke’s devotion to Dorothy is a great love story; he was so proud of Dorothy’s accomplishments. He established a National Jewish Book Award in her name to honor the best Jewish children’s book of the year. I was honored to accompany him to the annual ceremony in New York where he was joined by Madeline, Saul and Netta, may she rest in peace, along with Yossi, when the first Kripke National Jewish Book Award was celebrated. The luminaries of American Jewish literature were in attendance, and so many of them told Rabbi that they grew up reading Dorothy’s books. No wonder both Madeline and Saul are world-famous authors and scholars!
When the wonderful PJ Library was established to mail Jewish children’s books to families, Rabbi Kripke stepped forward to support the initiative in Omaha. The Kripke Library is the largest and finest collection of books in a JCC anywhere, and the Kripke Tower at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America restored the setting for what many consider the greatest Judaica library in the world. What a legacy!
Rabbi, you have been one of the most influential teachers in my life. Mazal tov! Bis a hundred and tzvantzig!”
From Rabbi Steven Abraham, Beth El Synagogue: “It was a privilege getting to meet Rabbi Kripke when I moved to Omaha. He wished me the best of luck in my career in the rabbinate; it meant the world to me. It is an honor serving the congregation he loved and worked tirelessly to build.”
From Lloyd Roitstein, President, Beth El Board of Trustees: “Those Beth El members who grew up attending Beth El on 49th & Farnam have fond memories of Rabbi Kripke. We respected, admired and appreciated all the wisdom he imparted upon our families. On a personal level, I have fond memories of my Bar Mitzvah in 1959 and my wedding in 1970. Rabbi Kripke made both occasions very special and quite memorable! I also remember how his sermons made me realize how much more I needed to learn in life.
Beth El — as well as our Jewish community — continues to be strong, successful and vibrant as a result of his commitment, devotion, leadership and wisdom. Happy 100th birthday, Rabbi Kripke.”
From Bob Wolfson, former Beth El congregant: “Rabbi Kripke is well-known far and wide and deserves all the accolades he has garnered over the decades. Jewish Omaha would not be what it is today without his amazing leadership, scholarship and philanthropy.
Rabbi Kripke and his family are entwined with my family’s roots. My late mother and father, were married by Rabbi shortly after he took the pulpit at Beth El. Dorothy (Rabbi Kripke’s bride, love of his life and accomplished author) and Rabbi were a close part of our growing up. All three of us were born and named (Ira Robert “Bobby,” Ronald Gershon “Ronnie,” and Douglas Perry “Dougie”) by Rabbi. We were all ‘shul kids,’ spending much of our lives in the synagogue. My older brother Ronnie and his wife Susie were married in a joint ceremony at Beth Israel, co-officiated by Rabbi Kripke. My wife Sibby and I were married in Des Moines, Iowa, in a ceremony co-officiated by Rabbi. My younger brother, Doug, and his wife Sara were married in New Jersey and Rabbi Kripke co-officiated.
The years of our family tree are stamped heavily with Rabbi as our spiritual leader, our religious guide, mentor and close family friend. The meaning of each of my family’s life-cycle events, the ups and downs, the births and deaths, the successes and the failures, has been deepened by Rabbi and his teaching. His words, his model and his intellect communicate with every word a wiser, deeper approach to living and an ever present quest for knowledge of the gifts of our wonderful tradition.
Rabbi Kripke has been what his title declares, our teacher. My family and the Omaha community have been immeasurably enriched by this kind and gentle man.”
From Jan Goldstein, congregant: “Throughout the years, Rabbi Kripke has been the patriarch of the Omaha Jewish community, one who has truly inspired Jewish consciousness, community and continuity. And on a personal level, Rabbi Kripke has been my guide and my dear friend for decades. I cherish the time I’ve spent with him.”
Blanche Wise, congregant: “Rabbi Kripke conducted my wedding in 1951 when I was just 19 years old. Throughout the years, I was always very fond of Rabbi Kripke, never dreaming I would be working in the office with him one day. I really enjoyed it. We got along very well and he was such a pleasure to work with.”
From Bucky Greenberg, congregant: “The most vivid of the many wonderful services Rabbi Kripke offered to our family was the eulogy he delivered at my father’s funeral 62 years ago, in which he compared Dad’s love for Beth El to a portion from Pirkei Avot about a river, ever free-flowing in the good times and bad, full of sweet, clear water to help nourish the people alongside. Rabbi Kripke, no matter your chronological age, I will always enjoy greeting you as ‘young man.’”
Helga Patterson, congregant: “Rabbi Kripke’s Wednesday morning class was the singular most meaningful experience of my week. Lo these many years later, those of us who are around today still refer to that class as a remarkable experience, due to Rabbi Myer Kripke.”
From Doug Wolfson, congregant: “Sitting in a pew at Beth El in the early 1960s, watching the service conducted by Rabbi Kripke, is one of my earliest memories. His presence as MY rabbi is a powerful impression that has meaning to me today. When I think of the wise, comforting, scholarly image of a rabbi, I think of Rabbi Kripke. Now many years later, I think of Rabbi and the whole Kripke family as part of my family. Rabbi’s concern and loving-kindness to my children is a blessing that I am eternally grateful for.
The most important thing I cherish about Rabbi Kripke is the deep friendship he had with my parents, Bernice and Alan, may their memory be a blessing. My mother and father loved Rabbi and Dorothy. They admired them, honored them, and at the end of the day, loved them. Rabbi, happy birthday and may you go from strength to strength!”
From Jean Duitch, congregant: “Rabbi Kripke conducted my wedding, as well as that of my sister, Doris, to Marty Haykin. He even presided over the marriage of my mother, Ethel Levenson to Cantor Aaron Edgar when they were both 75 years old. Since his dear friend Bernice Wolfson passed away, I have been planning his birthday parties. I enjoy visiting with him and wish him a very happy 100th birthday.”
From Ilse and Marcel Kahn, congregants: “Thanks for all you’ve done for us and your many years of guidance. Enjoy the day.”
From Judy Tully, congregant: “Rabbi Kripke was my teacher, mentor and friend from the time he came to Omaha. I was privileged to be one of a small group of women who met and studied with Rabbi Kripke every other Wednesday morning for 20 years. Beginning with Genesis and then Exodus, to the study of Reconstructionist Judaism to Commentary magazine and more, he helped each of us find a way to live a Jewish life and helped us with the unanswerable questions that life poses. Those lessons are still with me today. Happy birthday, Rabbi Kripke!”
Shane Kotok, congregant: “Rabbi Kripke taught me so much about dignity, respect and acceptance. I was extremely honored when he chose my office space for the “Kripke Bed & Breakfast,” during the renovation of the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home. To be in that space, not just because of what we do every day, but because of the name on my office, it felt like a sacred place. Often, people would stop by, see the name, and reminisce about Rabbi Kripke. He has such a special place in people’s hearts, and his name helped make my office a welcoming and comforting place.”
On behalf of Beth El Synagogue, we thank Rabbi Kripke for his leadership, friendship and generosity to the entire Omaha Jewish community. Perhaps Bob Wolfson captured it best when he said, “The reaching of this amazing milestone is an opportunity to once again raise our awareness of the blessings in plain sight. Rabbi Kripke has been and will continue to be a light and a blessing.” Happy 100th birthday, Rabbi Kripke!