Rabbi Zalman and Rebbetzin Shula Kazen, who established Cleveland’s first Chabad House and the Cleveland Kosher Food Pantry, will be remembered with a Torah scroll dedication by Congregation Zemach Zedek in Cleveland Heights.
For close to 60 years, the Kazens were leaders in the Jewish community.
The Kazens were born in Russia and were married for 71 years.
Their legacy in Cleveland includes descendants who have helped energize and lead the burgeoning Chabad movement in Greater Cleveland and across the world.
Rabbi Kazen was a teacher in the underground yeshiva movement of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He and his wife fled Russia at the end of World War II and spent several years living in Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia and France. The family spent five years in a Paris chateau turned refugee center. In 1950, the family of eight immigrated to the United States with the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in 1953.
In New York, they met Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, chief rabbi of the Chabad movement.
“He welcomed us and he took us in for a private audience,” their daughter, Devorah Alevsky, recalled.
He encouraged the family to accept a placement in Cleveland.
“Wherever you go, you are a lamplighter,” Schneerson told the family, Alevsky said. “Help one another.”
After arriving in the United Sttates, the Kazens started helping other Holocaust survivors and fundraising for the Land of Israel.
Rabbi Kazen was first hired as a chazan on High Holy Days and as the rabbi of Zemach Zedek,where he became the spiritual leader for more than 50 years. He also worked as a schocket at Coventry Poultry in Cleveland Heights. Rebbetzin Shula Kazen dove into Jewish life, reaching out to countless refugees as they arrived in Cleveland.
In 1972, the couple established Chabad House in Cleveland to help college students and the Jewish community.
Today, Chabad has 18 emissaries serving Northeast Ohio.
In the 1980s, they formed the Russian Immigrant Aid Society to welcome immigrants from the Soviet Union with free food and furniture, apartments and jobs, English language and Jewish heritage classes.
Now known as the Cleveland Kosher Food Pantry, it serves Jews and non-Jews, offering nonperishable goods, dairy, produce and ceremonial foods for Jewish holidays.
They also arranged festive holiday celebrations and lifecycle events for hundreds, including brit mila, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and funerals.
In addition, the couple enrolled immigrants’ children in the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland.
Simultaneous to a program honoring the Kazens at Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights, a Russian language program led by Mark Kagarlitskiy will take place at 2:30 p.m. March 1 at Zemach Zedek to honor the Kazens. Afterward, all will be invited to dance with the Torahs in the synagogue following the processional.
Michael Hoen, who is president of Zemach Zedek, with his wife, Lois, coordinated the purchase of the Torah and the celebration.