Jerusalem – There can be no single word used to describe Rabbi Rafael Halperin, who died at his Bnei Brak home this past Shabbos after a battle with cancer. While best known as the founder of Optica Halperin, the low cost Israeli optical chain which over twenty years has grown to include over 120 locations both in Israel and the United States, R’ Halperin was a man of many talents who in his 87 years managed to make a Kiddush Hashem wherever he went, be it as a businessman, a Rabbi and even as a championship wrestler.
Born in Vienna in 1924, R’ Halperin moved to Israel in 1933 where he became a bodybuilder, professional wrestler, champion weightlifter and a national karate champion. R’ Halperin was said to have been a source of Jewish pride after World War II as European refugees watched him beat a German opponent in a wrestling match, while wearing pants emblazoned with a Mogen Dovid.
R’ Halperin wrestled in both the United States and Canada, hoping to earn enough money to enable him to open a chain of athletic facilities. He wrestled as Mr. Israel for Capitol Wrestling and reportedly won 159 consecutive matches. While many wrestling matches at the time were merely staged performances, Halperin took the sport seriously and refused to give nothing less than his best in every match, in order to uphold the honor of his homeland. Halperin returned to Israel and is credited for popularizing professional wrestling. He opened a chain of fitness centers, emphasizing healthy eating and proper nutrition.
R’Halperin also engaged in several other business ventures. A skilled diamond cutter, he was involved in the jewelry trade and owned coffee shops and restaurants, in addition to serving as an army reservist in the Yom Kippur war.
Despite his success in the athletic realm, R’ Halperin returned to his religious roots in 1976, selling his businesses and devoting himself full time to yeshiva.
R’ Halperin got semicha and founded the first Optica Halperin in 1988 as a charitable endeavor, offering glasses at affordable prices for the needy residents of Bnei Brak. The wildly successful discount optical chain is credited with lowering eyeglass prices in Israel and now boasts 128 locations.
In his later years R’ Halperin authored fifty four seforim include the twenty volume Encyclopedia L’Beis Yisroel and was outspoken in his opposition to businesses operating on Shabbos, leading an initiative to create a credit card containing a special chip that prevents it from being used on Shabbos.
Approximately 1,000 people, including Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, attended R’ Halperin’s levaya in Bnei Brak on Motzei Shabbos, where the father of twelve and grandfather of over fifty, was eulogized by his son Yaakov.
“Hundreds of thousands of people kept Shabbos because of you. You were a father to countless people and have left your mark all over the country.”
R’ Halperin was the true epitome of the words “Torah U’gedula B’makom Echod”. May R’ Halperin’s memory be blessed and may he continue to serve as an inspiration to all of klal yisroel.