Rabbi Hillel Klavan, who helped lead Washington’s Orthodox community as rabbi of Congregation Ohev Shalom Talmud Torah and a member of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington, died Monday. He was 93.
A Silver Spring resident, he was most recently rabbi emeritus of Congregation Ohev Shalom Talmud Torah, the congregation which his father, Rabbi Yehoshua Klavan, had served earlier.
Rabbi Klavan’s importance to his community was clear at his funeral service Tuesday at Young Israel Shomrei Emunah in Silver Spring, where mourners filled the sanctuary and spilled into the building’s foyer.
In attendance was Rabbi Avrom Landesman, a founder of Woodside Synagogue Ahavas Torah in Silver Spring, who had known Rabbi Klavan since 1962. He said one of the most impressive projects they worked on together was the founding of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington.
“He was the rabbi that transitioned the Washington Jewish community from a small to a somewhat major Jewish community, and he did it with a lot of courage and a lot of dedication,” he said. “He helped raise funds, he gave judgmental guidance to us and he was always a very distinguished and honorable gentleman. It was a great honor to know him.”
Theo Heller, who also attended the funeral, came to know Rabbi Klavan 26 years ago, when he and his fiancee moved to Washington from South Africa ago and needed someone to help with their wedding.
“I was finishing medical school. My wife came a month early to arrange the wedding, and we were very South African in mindset,” he said. She called the beis din [Orthodox rabbinical court] and Rabbi Klavan answered and married us a month later.”
Heller described Rabbi Klavan as showing an “undefinable sense of responsibility and caring for others,” and said he was always more concerned about his obligations than his rights.
But, Heller said, he never failed to maintain a sense of humor, even as he was experiencing heart failure during the last year of his life.
“I asked him, ‘What are you going to do, you can’t have herring anymore?’ So he said, ‘Oh, I’ll find another cardiologist, of course,’” Heller recounted. “I think it’s in the little things that you see the greatness of the man.”
For Potomac resident Arthur Moer, Rabbi Klavan’s presence was a constant. The two knew each other from the age of 9 when they were growing up in Washington’s Shepherd Park neighborhood. Later, Rabbi Klavan officiated at both his and his son’s weddings.
“I continue to learn from him to this day,” Moer said.
Rabbi Klavan received his s’micha, or ordination, from Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore. He retained a lifelong connection to the school.
He came to the yeshiva after his bar mitzvah, Baltimore Jewish Life wrote in 2013, when Ner Israel honored Rabbi Klavan and his wife, Myrna, with the Legacy of Torah Award. He was the youngest of the yeshiva’s 20 students when he began studying there.
After his ordination, Rabbi Klavan took a post in Brooklyn, N.Y., according to a biography provided by the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington.
In 1953, after the death of his father, he became rabbi of Congregation Ohev Shalom Talmud Torah.
“Rabbi Klavan served as the rav of Congregation Ohev Shalom Talmud Torah during the challenging and turbulent years for Orthodoxy of the second half of the twentieth century,” according to the biography.
“Rabbi Klavan faced those challenges steadfastly with charm and seichel [good sense]. He remained absolutely true to the mesorah [tradition] his father brought to America from the gedolei Yisroel [sages] in Europe.”
Rabbi Moshe Walter, executive director of the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington, said Rabbi Klavan knew “how to handle complicated situations, how to handle adversity, how to care for people, how to maintain a strong family while having a congregation.”
Rabbi Klavan, he said, “walked with God.”
Rabbi Klavan was the husband of Myrna Klavan, father of Rachell (Dr. Shabsie) Tajerstein, Malka (Rabbi Chezky) Zweig, Hadassah (Rabbi Pinchus) Weinberger and Yehoshua Klavan.
He will be buried in Eretz Hachaim cemetery in Beit Shemesh, Israel.