Born in Philadelphia, Rabbi Dr. Louis Kaplan’s family moved to Camden, New Jersey when he was three. At Camden High School’s graduation exercise he received the award as male winner of the annual public speaking contest. He served in the army for 21 months, including a year in Korea, and was honorably discharged with the rank of staff sergeant.
He holds Bachelor (1949) and Master (1950) degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, and graduated from Philadelphia’s Gratz College (1950) where earned a Teacher of Hebrew diploma and was awarded the education prize. He continued at Gratz for a postgraduate year. In 1956 he was ordained a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, from which he also received the degree of Master of Hebrew Literature and the Midrash prize. In 1971 he earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Dropsie University for Hebrew and Cognate Learning. Eleven years later the Seminary presented him with an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.
Rabbi Kaplan occupied pulpits in Bloomfield, Connecticut for four years and Daytona Beach, Florida for one year before coming to Ohev Shalom in 1961, then in Chester, PA. In addition to his role as rabbi, Rabbi Kaplan served as school principal from 1983-1992. He retired in 1992, but returned for 13 months as our part time rabbi in 2001-2002 when the congregation was searching for a religious leader. As our Rabbi Emeritus, Rabbi Kaplan continues to be a valued part of our community. He offers a D’var Torah at one morning prayer service each week, delivers a lecture periodically as part of our Adult Education lecture series, and substitutes for Rabbi Gerber when needed. In addition to his role as Rabbi Emeritus, Rabbi Kaplan is involved in many endeavors in the general community.
These are some of Rabbi Kaplan’s accomplishments during his long tenure at Ohev Shalom: instituting a two-year Post-Confirmation program in our school; sending students to Camp Ramah and Israel (an award-winning program with Haifa’s Conservative congregation); establishing Monday evening and Wednesday morning adult education classes; teaching many converts; implementing various innovations in prayer services; holding the Bat Mitzvah ceremony on Shabbat morning; leading the first Conservative congregation in Greater Philadelphia to allow aliyot (Torah honors) for women and to count them in a minyan (prayer quorum); leading our area into what has been called “the golden age” in interfaith relations.
Rabbi Kaplan was active in interfaith work. He held the office of president in the Ministerium of Chester and Vicinity, Interfaith Council of Nether Providence Clergy, and the Swarthmore-Wallingford Interfaith Ministerium. He originated “Quest: An Experiment in Interfaith Understanding,” which involves Ohev Shalom, St. John Chrysostom Roman Catholic Church, and Swarthmore Presbyterian Church, and was co-founder of the “Covenant of Faith” binding these three institutions. In 1972, Rabbi Kaplan, Monsignor Frederick Stevenson, and Reverend J. Barrie Shepherd were co-winners of the Sylvan K. Cohen Award from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia.
Rabbi Kaplan served as president of the Philadelphia Region of the Rabbinical Assembly. He was a member of the Research Committee and Institutional Review Board at Crozer-Chester Medical Center and the board of directors of Crozer Library, Suburban Opera Company, and the Chester Human relations Council. He even served on the Ministers’ Advisory Board of (Christian) Crozer Theological Seminary.
Rabbi Kaplan held the positions of adjunct lecturer in English and Judaica at the Brandywine Campus of Pennsylvania State University (1973-1981) and of adjunct assistant professor of Judaica at Widener University (1989-1992, 1994). He was chaplain to Jewish students at Widener University and conducted a monthly prayer-study-song session at four area nursing homes. The rabbi also taught courses and spoke in churches, and delivered talks at synagogues, high schools, universities, and community organizations. His writings have appeared in various scholarly and popular publications. As an avid jazz lover, he has also published pieces on Dixieland Jazz in jazz magazine and newspapers.
The rabbi’s wife, Mindell, who will be remembered with affection by many, died in June 2001. He has two married daughters, Deborah and Leah, and three grandchildren: Rachel, David, and Jonah.