An Unnoticed Outreach Hero

Rabbi Abraham J. Klausner died on June 28. The obituaries in the Jewish press, including JTA and the Jerusalem Post, described how Rabbi Klausner, the leader of a Reform synagogue in Yonkers, N.Y., for 25 years, was the first Jewish chaplain in the US Army to enter Dachau and had been a leading advocate for Holocaust survivors. The New York Times obituary tells that story too, with quotes from Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, that Rabbi Klausner was “the father figure” for more than 30,000 survivors found at Dachau, and was instrumental in improving conditions in the displaced persons camps after the war. But the Times tells one more story about Rabbi Klausner that the Jewish press didn’t mention.

In 1986, Rabbi Klausner wrote a book titled Weddings: A Complete Guide to All Religious and Interfaith Marriage Services. The book, though out of print, is still available from online sources. it contains texts for wedding services from many religious traditions with suggestions for combining texts of different faiths.

The Times notes:

For Rabbi Klausner, refusing to marry interfaith couples was a mistake. “It’s a very traumatic experience to have a clergyman reject your judgment,” he told The New York Times in 1989. “I don’t think this is the role of religion, which should be to heal and help.”

I don’t know why the JTA and Jerusalem Post didn’t mention Rabbi Klausner’s stance on rabbinic officiation at intermarriages in their obituaries. I think it was a lost opportunity to show that such an obviously wonderful Jewish hero was willing to take a stance on what remains, over 20 years later, a divisive issue.

Coincidentally, Rabbi Lev Baesh starts work today as InterfaithFamily.com’s first Rabbinic Circle Director. Part of his work will be to create resources for intermarrying couples and the rabbis who work with them. We’ll explore whether we can incorporate some of Rabbi Klausner’s work, or possibly reprint it, as part of that effort–an idea for which we thank our friend Rabbi David Kudan.

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