Thinking About Jimmy Klau’s Life and Death

“Yet though we bolt and bar our house from You, to every door, O Death, You have a key.”

We all knew that Jimmy was ailing, but he had come back from every crisis. His resilience and his will to live were formidable, as formidable as Jimmy was himself. Rabbi Jacob Rudin wrote, “To ask of death that it never come is futile, but it is not futile to pray that when death comes for us, it will take us from a world that is in even the smallest measure better because we changed a corner of it.”

Jimmy certainly changed a corner of the world – many corners, in fact. There was the public Jimmy, not that he ever sought center stage; the Jimmy who had both dreams and practical ways of realizing them; the Jimmy whose reputation for honesty and fairness was well-known and well-earned; the Jimmy who never asked from anyone else anything he wouldn’t be willing to do himself. 

And there was the private Jimmy, the very foundation of his family—Sue’s best friend, her most loyal ally, the love of her life; the Jimmy who was such a great father, beloved to Michael, Flippy, David and Cindy and their families, the Jimmy who ended each day sitting with Sue to review the news and watch another episode of Jeopardy. 

And there was the Jimmy whose public and private sides intersected: in Temple Beth Shalom, from its founding more than 50 years ago; in the World Union for Progressive Judaism, that Jewish world that was his passion, from the congregations and communities he and Sue visited in the World Union’s farthest reaches; in their beloved Crane Lake Camp – so many institutions that preserved and expanded the love for Judaism and the Jewish people that benefited from Jimmy and Sue’s devotion and their largesse.

In my years as one of Beth Shalom’s visiting rabbis, Naomi and I had the privilege of seeing Jimmy in action – quiet, steady, wise and, as in every aspect of his life, purposeful. We loved hearing the stories he told so well and so modestly. We loved hearing his High Holy Day appeals. No one could ask for contributions in a more gracious, encouraging, clear, decisive and inclusive and effective way than Jimmy. I particularly value the memory of Jimmy discovering the names of 70 members of the Frankl branch of his family who were murdered during the Holocaust years. That was a moment when all of Jimmy’s worlds came together and became even more precious to him than they had been before.

His life took its meaning from his engagement, interlacing with all these other lives, and the result was that, on all sides, Jimmy was beloved. Jimmy was “royal-hearted, rare.” Naomi and I loved him, admired him and respected him – as, I am sure, did all of you. Not only our memories of Jimmy, but our actions too, must continue to be inspired by the life he led so well.


Jimmy Klau

Our dear founding member Jimmy Klau passed away on Thursday, November 28th. You can read his obituary here.