Ralph Alpert, a retired Southern California businessman who became a Talmudic scholar and a campus crusader for Orthodox Judaism, has died at 78.
Alpert died Monday at Tarzana Regional Medical Center after suffering from liver cancer.
Founder of the Young Israel Synagogue of Northridge and Chizuk L'limud Torah, a foundation to aid Jewish students, Alpert was credited by local Jewish leaders with dramatically increasing student interest in the religion at Cal State Northridge.
"We're going to have 10,000 Jewish students here someday, and we need vision to get them involved," he told the Los Angeles Times earlier this year.
Despite his illness, Alpert continued to spend about four days a week on campus urging Jewish students to express their Judaism.
Born Rachmiel Alperowitz on Oct. 19, 1911, in Viazen, which was in Czarist Russia, Alpert immigrated as a child to Buffalo, N.Y., and moved to Southern California in 1944.
He credited a 50-year battle with stuttering, which he finally overcame, and the loss of two sons to illness for making him a "more compassionate human being . . . closer to Judaism and God."
At 67, Alpert retired from his grocery and hotel business and enrolled as a full-time student at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles in traditional Torah and Talmudic studies. Officials reluctantly admitted the eighth-grade dropout on the basis of "life experience," but conceded when he completed the rigorous four-year course that they had expected him to last "two months tops."
His enthusiasm for Judaism during his studies prompted faculty members to suggest that he concentrate on working with Jewish students on campuses to interest them in their own heritage. He headed for Northridge, which is believed to have the largest Jewish student population--an estimated 8,000--of any non-Jewish university west of New York City.
"We are losing so many of our young people to cults and assimilation," he often said, "that Hitler's dream of no more Jews could become a reality."
In 1982, Alpert founded with Richard Macales the Young Israel Synagogue of Northridge and served as its president. In the synagogue's infancy, Alpert regularly entertained as many as three families at a time in his home in order to have the required quorum of 10 men for prayer.
For the past few years, the foundation he created has granted scholarships to Jewish high school graduates for study in Israel.
Alpert is survived by his wife, Bryna; son, Gregg; a sister, Ruth Shapiro, and four granddaughters.
The family has requested that any memorial contributions be made to Chizuk L'limud Torah, 17332 Dearborn St., Northridge, 91325.