Remembering the unassuming KGH couple who were the very definition of generosity
Much credit for the content herein goes to the Kuppermanns’ daughter, Wendy Joy Binah Kuppermann, and Yehuda Weinberg.
Mrs. Ann (Anya Pola) Kuppermann a”h (nee Gratter) has legions of merits to her credit. The wealth of her compassion for another Jew and the extent of her philanthropy will never fully be realized. Maras Golda Perel bas Reb Dov, born May 23, 1923, only knew how to give, following the path that her beloved husband David z”l undertook. Together they grabbed every opportunity to perform mitzvos, and became one of the foremost charitable couples of our generation – in Queens, Lakewood, and Eretz Yisrael. The couple lived humbly in Kew Gardens Hills for more than half a century.
Both Ann, a religious girl from the Polish town of Levov, now part of Ukraine, and David, a Bobover chasid originally from Krakow, lost their families in the horrors of the Shoah and together embarked on a quest to restore the grandeur of yesteryear. Ann lost her beloved sister, as nearly everyone from her town was wiped out. She rarely discussed the memories that were so obviously on the forefront of her mind. Conversely, David, who lost his only brother, shared his trials and tribulations and his path to survival as a teenager engineering metal parts during the war in a labor camp. David’s job placement in the camp’s assembly line afforded him the rare opportunity to grab a mitzvah by donning for a mere few moments a t’filin shel rosh that was hidden amongst inventory. This love for mitzvos carried him throughout every aspect of life.
Each day was spent glorifying Hashem’s name and His people. The couple met in the Displaced Persons camp following the war and wed in a local bar. Emotionally, while watching a beautiful wedding reception of nowadays, David once recalled his own wedding, where he was given a white tablecloth to transform into a white shirt to enhance his own celebration. When the couple embarked on their trip to America, sometime in 1948, they barely had a few dollars to scrape together. Their first New York destination was Howard Avenue in Crown Heights; they later settled in Washington Heights. Eventually, the couple moved to Melbourne Avenue in Kew Gardens Hills. It was not until the mid-1970s that they moved into their final home, a two-bedroom dwelling on 137th Street. Not one for the grandiose of life, David and Ann kept their home to the basics, not even wanting to replace a refrigerator or oven that was on the fritz, rather desiring to provide others with the joys stolen from them decades prior. David juggled jobs, while Ann worked in hotel management, until the benevolence of Mr. Jack Horn z”l surfaced. The Horns knew David to be an honest gentleman and offered him an opportunity to partner in real estate ventures, initially as the manager of properties. Their business flourished, providing the Kuppermanns the remarkable chance to fulfill their dream of building klal Yisrael.
Above all else, their most precious gift was their loving daughter, Dr. Wendy Joy Binah Kuppermann, a graduate of Dov Revel, who then studied at Bar Ilan University, Columbia University, and later earned a PhD from Yale University, all on scholarships. David especially took pride in his daughter having done what he could not – go to school and prosper into an accomplished woman. “Chinuch is nothing without achdus,” Wendy repeated in the name of her father.
David always held a grudge that he was unable to raise his younger brother. These feelings, especially his liberation on the very day that his brother would have been bar mitzvah, led to a lifelong mission of furthering Torah education for elementary-age youngsters. Local yeshivos like Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe, Yeshiva Ketana of Queens, and earlier the structure that now houses Yeshiva Sha’are Zion, were amongst some of the recipients of this generosity. The YSZ building is named “Binat Chaim” after both of David’s parents. Tz’dakah was one and the same in the Kuppermann home. Every solicitor was provided a donation, often without question, even in the beginning when finances were tight. David had a knack to pull from those who sought a helping hand how much they truly required, and readily provided the full amount.
The mitzvah of mikvah was another Jewish value that the Kuppermanns cherished. Khal Machzikei Hadas, originally the destination for Holocaust survivors, was under the auspices of Rav Yosef Gelernter. When the mikvah’s construction was planned, David was on hand to help. Today, under the leadership of the rav’s son-in-law Rabbi Henach Savitsky, when the shul’s mikvah needed repair, again the Kuppermanns where there. Ann was once informed that the Jewish community of Bensalem, Pennsylvania, had no mikvah. She took this task to heart, ensuring that every need was attended and a beautiful ritual bath now exists as a merit to her aunt, Mindy Klein a”h. There are stories of the Kuppermanns funding weddings for families in need – more than once – and covering expenses for local batei midrash, both minor and major. Rabbi Menachem Rottenberg z”l, the former executive director at the Yeshiva of Central Queens, once introduced the Kuppermanns to the Lakewood community where a need existed for a girls’ elementary school. The couple built two girls’ schools, one named after Ann’s family, the Gratter building, and later on a much larger structure Mr. Kuppermann named after his eishes chayil, Beis Anya. The duo kept up a strong relationship with these schools, visiting often and being dubbed the Bubby and Zeidy for the girls. The relationship carried through to Ann’s l’vayah on Har HaMenuchos, where graduates of Beis Anya in seminary were on hand alongside a group of Lakewood bachurim to make a minyan.
It was only a few days ago that the festival of Chanukah concluded. This holiday had a special place in the Kuppermann household. As the Nazis, yimach sh’mam, rose to power, they began looting the Jewish homes. David’s father, Chaim Tzvi z”l, jumped into action and hid the family’s most prized Judaic heirlooms in the dirt basement of their Polish home. Years later, David tracked down a relative who found an authoritative figure that, despite a new family living in the home, allowed them to extract the items – a Kiddush becher, candlesticks, and the menorah that David and Ann continued to use each Chanukah through the third night, before Ann passed.
David was a follower of the Bobov dynasty and desired to make a special donation to a Brooklyn building campaign. Striving to find a way that would not hinder others from donating, David chose to dedicate the facilities’ windows, an odd choice for the time. This dedication opportunity was heralded as innovative and today is a much-desired choice. Similarly, Ann appreciated the work of the Slonim yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael and never missed their luncheons or dinners. Other organizations that Ann held dear were AMIT Women, the Weitzmann Institute, Rabbi Meir Baal Haness, OHEL, and Chabad’s 770 Headquarters.
The Kuppermanns shared a deep connection with Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld zt”l and his Rebbetzin Ruth a”h. Ann passed on the same day as Rabbi Fabian; their final trip was on the same flight. When the Rebbetzin was niftar, Ann settled on dedicating the aron kodesh of the new beis midrash in the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills as an everlasting tribute. Ann also shared a special friendship with Rebbetzin Friedman of Bais Yosef D’Ulem, a short walk from her home. A more recent donation of a fully loaded Queens Hatzolah ambulance initiated from a conversation following a story about the life-saving organization in an issue of the Queens Jewish Link. Ann decided that instead of calling on Hatzolah in her time of need, she would be able give the organization that is always ready to help others the opportunity to do so more easily.
David would dedicate his life to learning and never missed an opportunity to listen and, moreover, review the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary’s Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a rabbinical leader that he referred to as his rav. Weekly, on Tuesday nights, David would visit the Young Israel of Forest Hills to hear and record these classes, even installing an electric chairlift in the shul to ensure he could attend the Gemara lectures.
Their philanthropy delved deep into the Israeli healthcare arena. The Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem received three unit dedications: neurology, pediatric intensive care and gynecology, and high-risk pregnancy. The Laniado Hospital in Netanya was awarded a prized maternity department, and the Shamir Medical Center, formerly Assaf Harofeh, has an intermediate coronary care department, a general ICU unit, and a cardiac intensive care unit in the Kuppermanns’ name. Ann was not one to care for fashion styles, rather finding the smiles on the babies’ faces from these hospitals as her treasured jewels.
Ann and David were the ultimate testament to rising above the horrors of World War II and leading a Torah-inspired life for all to model. Their beloved daughter Wendy can take comfort in the righteous deeds of her parents that are known, and the countless acts of kindness that will never be revealed, but are continuing to elevate Jewish life around the world
By Shabsie Saphirstein