By Freda Gail Stern and Joan Wolman
When Ruth Wertheimer and Harold Kleinman sealed their partnership on a stormy day in January 1955, they spawned a remarkable and extensive circle of service. Their positive influence is extended through their five sons and their wives, who along with 10 grandchildren continue a tradition deeply rooted in the concept of helping others.
Now, 54 years later, Temple Emanu-El Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) recognizes the meaningful lives of Ruth and Harold Kleinman with its highest honor, the Rabbi Gerald J. Klein “Love of Sisterhood” award. The award will be presented on April 2 at a gala dinner at Temple Emanu-El with prominent sportscaster Brad Sham as master of ceremonies and a musical tribute by Randy Pearlman, professional performer, Temple Emanu-El cantorial soloist and son of their lifelong friends, Jeneane and Aaron Pearlman.
Ruth managed to amass thousands of hours volunteering through WRJ/Sisterhood, National Council of Jewish Women, Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Service, PTAs and more, while being a stay-at-home mother to five active sons. She set an example not by words alone but through meaningful action in which the children were always involved. Ruth is a member of WRJ/Sisterhood’s Hall of Fame, which recognizes outstanding service to WRJ/Sisterhood and the community. Harold found success as a corporate and business attorney with Thompson & Knight, rising to managing partner of the firm where he spent his entire 43-year legal career. During that time, Harold served as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and Temple Emanu-El.
They came from diverse family backgrounds. Ruth’s unique family was formed when two sisters married the Wertheimer brothers, whose family had immigrated to Houston in the mid-1800s. They shared a home, with Ruth and sister Sophia looking upon their cousin Henry as a brother, and believing it was not unusual to have two mothers and two fathers. In what became a family trademark of community involvement, Henry served as mayor of Rosenberg, Texas. He served as president of the Consolidated School Board for 12 years and was recognized by having a school named after him. Sophia served in many leadership roles in the Houston Jewish community, including serving as president of Congregation Beth Yeshuran Sisterhood and chairman of the Anti-Defamation League.
Ruth graduated from San Jacinto High School and with roommate Jeneane Gartner (now Pearlman), her childhood friend, went to Austin and the University of Texas. Breaking the mold for girls in the 1950s, Ruth majored in microbiology. She served as president of her sorority, Sigma Delta Tau.
Harold was born in Dallas in 1930, the son of Eastern European immigrants Ida Wolf and William Kleinman. Living in South Dallas, the family had a dry goods store on Elm Street, which went under during the Great Depression. Harold, older sister Shirley and their parents relocated to the small town of McCamy in west Texas, where his uncle was in business. The Kleinmans and their brother’s family were the only Jewish families in the town. Harold and his sister continued their Jewish education begun at Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas with their father as teacher. Harold had his bar mitzvah in Odessa, where the Jews from several small West Texas communities gathered for the holidays on Rosh Hashanah, with his father officiating. After graduation, Harold also headed for Austin and the University of Texas.
In her junior year at UT, Ruth met Harold and went out with him on the recommendation of friend Jeneane, who described him as “a Big Man On Campus.” After three years as an undergraduate, Harold started law school at UT when, as he says, “to get into law school, all you had to do was show up.” Completing his bachelor’s degree and law degree, he went into the service and married Ruth while he was on furlough the following January.
Harold had completed basic training in El Paso; then the newlyweds were assigned to posts in Baltimore, Md., and New Jersey before being sent to Petersburg, Va. Ruth put her education to work, becoming a microbiologist at the Medical College of Virginia after “we had gone through all our wedding money.” Her father had told her to major in something important, so she would be able to support her husband if required. While in Petersburg, the couple joined the synagogue, attended Shabbat services every Friday evening and became religious-school teachers there. Ruth taught the second grade while Harold was assigned to the bar mitzvah class. They made many friends, and Ruth learned to live the small-town life that was so familiar to her husband. When Harold’s sister died, he obtained a transfer to San Antonio to be nearer to his family, where he and Ruth remained until his discharge in 1956.
Ruth had hoped they would settle in Houston, but Harold found the position he wanted with Thompson & Knight in Dallas. So they joined many of their college friends and started on the road as leaders and significant contributors to their new community. The family grew, with son William arriving in 1957, Lee in 1959, Mark in 1961, Jay in 1963 and Max, whom they call “the latecomer,” in 1971. Max and his wife, Amy, live in Seattle. Bill, Lisa and their children Rachel and Hannah; Lee, Lisa and children Michelle and David; Mark, Betsy and children Amanda, Alex and Adam; and Jay and children Corey, Jamie and Sam live in Dallas. Ruth and Harold smile when they say that their four older sons have children who range in age from 13 to 22, with the first child in each family being a girl. After all those years of hoping for a girl of their own, they now have six granddaughters.
Coming from Conservative Jewish homes, Ruth and Harold joined Congregation Shearith Israel when they arrived in Dallas and maintained a membership there for several years. It was Rabbi Levi A. Olan who inspired them to come to Temple Emanu-El in 1958, where their close friendship with Rabbi Gerald J. Klein first began. Their four oldest children had their bar mitzvah ceremonies led by Rabbi Klein at Temple Emanu-El and Max at Congregation Shearith Israel.
Ruth immediately immersed herself in temple life, becoming involved in virtually every facet of the congregation. She taught religious school; has conducted temple tours for 35 years; has chaired many committees including Religious School, Education, Pre-School and Outreach; taught parenting classes for young mothers through WRJ/Sisterhood; wrote and produced the WRJ/Sisterhood monthly bulletin with Connie Rudick; and co-chaired and was buyer for the Judaic Treasures gift shop, where she has volunteered for years. Ruth worked with the Temple’s Rhodes Terrace preschool, serving lunches and helping the teachers in this cutting-edge program, which preceded the well-known Head Start program. Ruth chaired outreach for the Southwest Region of the Union for Reform Judaism and has served on the temple’s board of directors. Friday is still hospital visitation day for her, “my Shabbat mitzvah,” she says. When her boys and then her grandchildren were small, they accompanied her on Fridays during the summer so they could learn to appreciate how fortunate they were and how important it is to do a good deed for those not so privileged. She is a “challah angel,” baking bread for the Saturday morning service, which she and Harold attend regularly. Together with Harold, son Lee and his wife, Lisa, Ruth helped build one of the temple’s Habitat for Humanity houses. She quotes her mother as telling her, “It is good that you show your children the right path but, in the end, how they turn out is 90 percent luck. We have been lucky.”
Ruth marks as her proudest achievement her service with Connie Rudick as co-presidents of WRJ/Sisterhood, where the two friends were fondly called “Grace” and “Ellie,” performing their tasks with grace and elegance. It was Ruth who saw that every contribution WRJ/Sisterhood funded (the kitchen remodeling, the changing room) was inscribed as “Lovingly contributed by the Sisterhood of Temple Emanu-El.” Together Ruth and Connie re-energized the WRJ/Sisterhood, increasing its membership and garnering recognition for its important work in the fabric of the temple.
There have been contributions outside the temple in major ways. The National Council of Jewish Women called on Ruth to work in target area schools in the most underserved parts of Dallas and to help with their seniors program at the Jewish Community Center. Ruth also co-led with Janice Sweet an NCJW study group, “Defining Judaism.” She and Harold, daughter-in-law Lisa and grandson Sam participate in the Jewish Family Service Meals on Wheels program, and Ruth has served on the board of the Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance. She chaired the first Book Fair at the JCC.
Harold, backing away from the spotlight, calls Ruth “the soul of our household,” the one who always insisted that the family be together for Shabbat dinner and who helped make Judaism a core value in the lives of their family members. The Kleinmans describe their philanthropic focus as being on health and human services, taking precedence over the cultural activities in which they are also involved. Harold, in addition to his leadership roles in his profession and the Jewish community, has served as chair of the Methodist Hospital System, chair of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and president of the Center for Non-Profit Management. He also served as a founder and first president of the Texas Equal Access for Justice Foundation, which has raised over $150 million to assure that legal services are provided to the poor people of Texas. Ruth and Harold are ardent supporters of Israel and have been active contributors to the Jewish Federation, Golden Acres and many other local and national charities.
The award they are receiving honors the memory of Rabbi Gerald J. Klein, who for over half a century was the Kleinmans’ friend and religious leader and would surely have approved wholeheartedly of the choice of Ruth and Harold Kleinman for this honor.
By Freda Gail Stern and Joan Wolman