George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom

A Tribute to David Kleiman

David Kleiman’s Gifts to the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom

An Appreciation by Ambasssador John L. Loeb, Jr.

David Kleiman

I was truly fortunate to know and work with David Kleiman. Sadly, David succumbed to AL amyloidosis, a blood protein disorder, on January 18, 2014.

David was a man of many parts and enormous talents, perhaps the most important one of which was helping people and organizations succeed. His work was particularly vital to this organization’s success. In just a few months and under great pressure, David and his beloved wife Kate completed the exhibitions at the Loeb Visitors Center, established the Center’s presence in Newport and promoted its significance as a teaching resource to thousands of visitors and on the Internet, helping to expand our educational outreach to the world. He helped give us a presence in the Rhode Island public schools and classrooms around the nation. He expanded and enhanced the Loeb Database of American Jewish Portraits, served as producer of Mel Urofsky’s glorious history of Newport Jewry and Touro Synagogue, and—above all—constantly challenged us to achieve higher levels of creativity, productivity, precision and excellence.

David’s involvement with GWIRF began in early 2009, when we hired him as curator of the Ambassador John L Loeb, Jr. Visitors Center at the Touro Synagogue National Historic Site. I knew David from the wonderful historical, genealogical and design work he did on the biography of my grandmother, Adeline Moses Loeb. The Visitors Center at Touro was scheduled to open in August of 2009, and the design and installation of its exhibits on the history of religious freedom in Rhode Island, the colonial Jewish community in Newport and the significance of Touro Synagogue were still in development. David and Kate worked tirelessly to complete them on time, and to David’s own exacting standards of excellence.

Having finished the exhibits at the Loeb Visitors Center, David took on the de facto role of its director of museum education. He hired and trained outstanding docents and managers (including Chuck Flippo, who is here with us today). He encouraged them to become highly knowledgeable about the history of Touro Synagogue, the lives of Roger Williams, Ezra Stiles and other colonial Newporters, and colonial Newport in general.

Those first few months immersed in the Loeb Visitors Center spawned David’s love affair with colonial Newport history. David possessed insatiable curiosity. He wanted to know everything that could be learned or deduced about colonial Newport, and especially about the multilayered interrelationships between its Jewish and Christian communities. He believed in making connections—between historical eras and events, and between cultural institutions and the people who staff them.

Immersing himself in the research collections of the Newport Historical Society, the City of Newport, the Rhode Island Historical Society, the Rhode Island State Archives, Redwood Library and elsewhere, he built friendships with archivists, curators, editors and executive directors at each of those institutions. Characteristically, he encouraged his new colleagues to exchange ideas and develop joint programs everywhere he went.

David especially brought his energy to the Newport Old Quarter organization, an alliance among the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, the Newport Historical Society, the Redwood Library, Newport History Walking Tours, the Whitehorne House and the Newport Art Museum. In the summer of 2013, in celebration of Touro Synagogue’s 250th anniversary, David curated an exhibition of documents on Newport Jewish history for the Redwood Library. Much of the exhibit was drawn from the archives of Congregation Jeshuat Israel, the congregation that worships at Touro Synagogue; David was in the process of helping the congregation organize, preserve and digitize its historic records at the time of his death. He was equally instrumental in helping plan “Spectacle of Toleration,” the Newport Historical Society’s celebration of the 350th anniversary of the 1663 Rhode Island Charter.

David’s devotion to colonial Newport history represents only one of his numerous interests. In the course of his fifty-nine years, he was (among many other things) a world-renowned genealogist; director of education at the Seaport Museum in New York City; publisher of the 305 English, Scottish and American folk ballads compiled by Francis J. Child in the 19th century; tireless collector and performer of sea shanties; concert promoter; computer programmer; management consultant; holder of an MBA degree and all-but-dissertation for a doctorate in anthropology. Above all, David should be remembered as a devoted husband, son, brother, grandfather, uncle, friend, teacher, mentor and inspiration. He will be sorely missed by us, by his friends and colleagues in Newport, and far beyond.