(JTA) — Mendel Kaplan, a prominent South African Jewish leader and philanthropist, has died.
Kaplan, a billionaire steel magnate who served as board chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel for nearly a decade, was 73.
A champion of Jewish education and Russian aliyah to Israel, he was board chairman of the Jewish Agency from 1987 to 1995.
Kaplan also was chairman of Keren Hayesod’s World Board of Trustees from 1983 to 1987 and national chairman of the Israel United Appeal, South Africa, from 1978 to 1987.
He established the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research at the University of Cape Town and the South African Jewish Museum, and was one of the first funders of the City of David excavation.
"Few, if any, have done as much to build South African Jewry into the dynamic, vibrant community it is today," said the chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Zev Krengel. He said that Kaplan could be called "the father of the South African Jewish community."
Kaplan, who authored several books, made his fortune in the South African steel industry, and for the past 35 years had residences in Israel and South Africa, according to The Jerusalem Post.