Esther Klevens, 98; taught Hebrew to thousands

Esther Blitz Klevens

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Esther Blitz Klevens, longtime admired and beloved Hebrew teacher in St. Louis, who taught over 2,000 students over the years, died Tuesday, July 6, 2010, after a long illness. She was 98 and a longtime resident of St. Louis.

Esther Blitz Klevens was a native of St. Louis, the daughter of Rev. and Mrs. Nathan (Bessie) Blitz .

According to her daughter, Meryl Klevens Kessler, “Mom spent her early years following her father around as he taught many young men Hebrew and Jewish culture. This instilled in her the desire to learn as well as to teach.”

Mrs. Klevens was a graduate of Soldan High School and was the author of her graduating class song. She later worked as a secretary to the late Gilbert Harris, former executive director of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, later the Jewish Community Center. She was later the librarian of the JCC’s Tannie Lewin Judaica Library, which later merged into the Brodsky Library.

Mrs. Klevens married the late Morris Klibansky (the name was later changed to Klevens). Over 1,000 people attended their wedding in 1936. Mrs. Klevens’s father headed the Beth David Congregation and her father-in-law, the late Rabbi Samuel Klibansky was Chief Orthodox Rabbi and head of the Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis. Morris and Esther Klevens were married for over 50 years. Mr. Klevens died in 1989.

During her adult life, Mrs. Klevens played piano for many local Jewish organizations, wrote scripts and parodies and was a regular on a Saturday evening radio show.

Mrs. Klevens taught Hebrew for 36 years at Congregation B’nai Amoona. “There were hundreds and hundreds of students taught by Mom,” recalls her daughter Meryl. “None of her students missed their bar or bat mitzvah. Many were special needs kids with autism, cerebral palsy or other physical handicaps or challenges. She also taught many who were Jews by choice. They all succeeded. Not only did she teach them, but she made hundreds of crocheted kippot for their whole celebration.

Back in 1992, in anticipation of Mrs. Kevens’s 80th birthday, her daughter Michele appealed to Mrs. Klevens’s present and former students, then estimated at over 2,000, to send pictures, poems, stories and anecdotes for a booklet in honor of the occasion.

Kessler told the St. Louis Jewish Light, “My husband and I have traveled a lot, and we have great stories of meeting people in places like Fiji, New York City’s Comedy Club, entertainers and a woman we met in Newport News, who were taught by her, and who still have the woven kippot she made for their celebrations.”

Mrs. Kessler adds that shiva was held in several cities . She was a true woman of valor, and fought so hard against dementia and other frailties of age. Her memory will always be for a blessing.”

Survivors include her daughters, Meryl Klevens Kessler (Robert) of Newport News, Va. and Michelle Klevens Ritterman of Berkeley, California and six grandchildren, Rachel, Rebecca, Miranda, Judah, David, and Staci and four great-grandchildren, Ben, Lee, Elle, and Connor.

Funeral services were held Thursday, July 8, 2010, at Congregation B’nai Amoona, 324 South Mason Road. Rabbi Susan Talve and Cantor Sharon Nathanson officiated. Burial was at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, 7500 Olive Boulevard in University

City. Contributions preferred to the Congregation B’nai Amoona Pardes

Education Fund, 324 South Mason Road, St. Louis, Mo. 63141.