“Bettye and Lou personified what has been best about our congregation: commitment to high ideals, interest in the larger world, a lack of ostentation, volunteerism, substance, sensible responses to problems, acceptance of people for who they are, the creation of genuine friendships and devotion to knowledge.*”
It is very fit that Bettye left her only charitable legacy to Congregation Etz Chaim for the purpose of supporting Social Action scholar in residence and other programs. The congregation has added substantially to this contribution. The Bettye and Louis Kaplan Social Action Fund now supports a wide array of educational and charitable endeavors in Dupage County and around the world.
Bettye was passionate in her love for Lou and for their family. She was very hands-on with her grandchildren, sharing with them her love of painting and gardening. Just weeks before her death, she painted side-by-side with grandson Nachshon.
“Lou was wonderful with children, his own and others. His life was centered on strong values, but he did not shout them. He exemplified them. With Lou it was show not tell. He was honest and lived a life of integrity. He shared his values with others not by giving speeches but living his life in the proper way.*”
Lou was quiet, yet always engaged. Their son, David remembers, “our father wasn’t big on presenting his views, but he was an excellent listener, always interested in what we were doing and why.”
Connie Mechanick praised Bettye as a “person of strength and of will, focused and formidable, one whose love of the Jewish people was strong, and whose knowledge and understanding of Judaism was deep and personal.”
Bettye and Lou came in 1947 from California and New York to meet in a nuclear chemistry lab in Chicago. Bettye had just graduated from Brooklyn College and Lou had finished a college and graduate education that started at the El Centro Community college where he lived in the boiler room in exchange for janitorial work. It was there that he discovered his love of science.
Bettye and Lou overcame difficult childhoods to start a family together. “While his childhood was uncertain, his adult life was stable and solid. He lived in one house, had one job and one wife.”
Bettye and Lou were part of the history of their times. They were targeted in the McCarthy Era witch hunt partly for their commitment to social justice. Bettye had campaigned for Henry Wallace and Lou had helped organize a union to improve conditions for the lab’s hourly workers.
They were true activists, never shying away from the scut work of social action. Lou was Democratic precinct captain. Bettye worked with the League of Women Voters on judicial reform and later was a leader of the teachers’ union at York HS.
They took their children to a 1960 rally for John Kennedy at York HS, to fundraisers for the Freedom Riders and to stand up against racist vitriol at the Lombard Town Council’s open housing hearing. Later, they marched against the Vietnam War with their draft-age son.
They were lifelong members of the ACLU and longtime supporters of the New Israel Fund which supports civil liberties in Israel. They participated in a 1985 New Israel Fund Delegation to Israel. For them, social justice was “hands-on”. The photo shows them greeting an activist at a demonstration for elderly rights in Jerusalem. With many others at Etz Chaim they supported a Soviet Jewish refusenik and a Vietnamese refugee family.
But their strongest commitment was to Congregation Etz Chaim. Lou had grown up in an observant family, and helped develop at Etz Chaim an environment that allowed him to express his love of Judaism and Jewish community. Bettye grew up in a secular home in Brooklyn and developed her commitment to Jewish Community at Etz Chaim. Bettye and Lou both taught religious school and served as Congregation presidents. Up until their deaths, they treasured Saturday morning Torah Study. They were grateful and felt privileged to have participated in the founding and building of Congregation Etz Chaim. The stone that Lou contributed to the Congregation’s garden says simply, “Thank you, Etz Chaim.”
Growing up at Etz Chaim, their children, Judith, David and Ruth all developed strong commitment to community and a love of Israel. David and his wife, Judy Katzin, made aliyah and were founders of Etz Chaim’s sister congregation, Kehilat Ra’anan and Judith has served on the Board and sings in the choir of her congregation in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Bettye and Lou took pride in all seven of their grandchildren and were delighted that they all were Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
The Bettye and Louis Kaplan Social Action Fund carries on their legacy within the community they loved so much.
*Quotations not otherwise attributed are from Rabbi Bob’s eulogies for Bettye and Lou.