2009-10-21 / Local News

Local attorney has led High Holiday services for 40 years

By DAVID PORTNOE Voice staff

AGE: 64

FAMILY: Wife Tamara & daughter Jessica Rubinstein

SYNAGOGUE: Cong. Beth El

ALMA MATER: Wharton and Penn Law School

PETS: Winston, a Sealyham terrier

HOBBIES: Exercise, playing bridge, sports, and concerts

When Michael Kline graduated from Penn Law School in 1969 and moved to Southern New Jersey, the Hazleton, PA native and his wife Tamara attended Cong. Beth Israel in Camden, Tamara's family synagogue. Rabbi Max Weine, spiritual leader of the congregation, needed someone to serve as baal shacharit, leader of the morning prayers during the High Holidays.

"I got a record and spent the whole summer learning it," said Kline. That summer has stood Kline in good stead. For the past 40 years, he has served as High Holiday baal shacharit—first at Beth Israel, then from 1976 on at Cong. Beth El in Cherry Hill and Voorhees. He has also led Kol Nidre services at the Bernard Dubin House, part of Jewish Federation Housing and Healthcare Service, since 1982. "Initially, I shared the Dubin House pulpit with Harry Platt, but for the past 15 years, I've done it on my own."

"They keep asking me to do it, so I guess I'm doing OK," said Kline with a laugh. He said that he gets a tremendous sense of fulfillment out of leading the High Holiday prayers. He said that the services hold a lot of meaning for the Dubin House residents. "It's something important that they look forward to," said Kline, a past president of the Jewish Geriatric Home and a longtime Federation and community volunteer.

Over the years, Kline has missed only one Kol Nidre at the Dubin House. That year, 1990, turned into one of the most memorable High Holiday experiences of his life.

As an attorney for the past 15 years with Fox Rothschild LLP, and prior to that with Cohen, Shapiro, Polisher, Shiekman and Cohen, Kline has served as the general counsel to Deborah Heart and Lung Center. He also volunteers and does a lot of pro bono work for Deborah. In 1990, Kline and his wife were part of a 44-member Deborah team that travelled to Tbilisi, Georgia, in the Former Soviet Union to do pediatric cardiac surgeries.

During the trip to Tbilisi, Kline led Yom Kippur services at the first openly held services in the city since the communists came to power in 1917. "It was exhilarating. The tension and anticipation were giving me more nervousness than doing the services at Beth El and the Dubin House," said Kline.

Kline said that the synagogue services, which were crowded, were a new experience for those attending. The local leader of the services didn't even know how to read Hebrew. He used a book with Hebrew transliteration in Russian.

As was the practice for Western Jews visiting the Soviet Union, Kline left behind his tallit, tefillin, High Holiday Machzor and his kittel, the white robe worn on the High Holidays, so that the local community could use them. "It was a moment in history and an unbelievable experience," said Kline. .

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