Meet Sunny Kaplan

Women's Philanthropy Spotlight

This post is part of a series highlighting women who are doing great work in our local Jewish community.

Sunny Kaplan

Sunny Kaplan:

"I was six months old when my family moved from Omaha, Nebraska, to California. The Sunshine State made an ideal place for kids to grow up after the harsh Midwestern winters. All this changed on December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan. The United States now formally entered the war that was already raging in Europe. Not long after, my Dad, who was 35 years old at the time with a wife and two young children, volunteered in the war effort. At the time, men his age were not yet being drafted. He became an officer in the United States Air Force, and spent four long years overseas, first in England and then France and finally Germany.

"The dynamics of my life were forever changed by these events. When my Dad returned, I started to ask this question of him: 'Why did you go off to war and leave me?' Over the years the answer was always the same: 'I went to war so you and your brother could grow up and live as free Jews in America and there would not be another war.' At the time, I did not truly understand what he meant. When I was in my thirties an opportunity came by way of our Federation to journey to Eastern Europe to see the concentration camps firsthand – a journey that changed my life in so many ways. I finally began to understand why my Dad had sacrificed so much for his family and what he believed was his responsibility.

"My Mother was now in charge on the home front. First she learned to drive, which led to different kinds of involvement in the war effort. She set an example for my brother and me, to her friends and to her neighbors. She became a leader. Everybody could do something for the war effort. We were all responsible and age didn’t matter. I helped collect used newspapers and tin cans. Sometimes I helped in the victory garden. I started school where, as soon as I learned to write, I sent letters and pictures to my Dad. I was constantly drawing about what we were doing. My passion for art started very early.

"Years later, when I was grown, my Dad took these same pictures out of his filing cabinet still carefully wrapped to show them to me. A few in time would become part of my personal art collection, to hang on my walls. They share space with watercolors I bought on a very dark night in a park in Moscow. The subject matter – Jewish rituals – was forbidden at all times, and was something that none of the Refuseniks were able to participate in. It was also against the law to meet with me in the park and sell the paintings to me for American dollars. The people I met longed to be free; I was there to provide dollars and, most of all, hope that they were not forgotten. We would get them out. I knew we were responsible for them. They were my family. I left with renewed determination for the task, which lay ahead for all of us.

"Caring for my community and being responsible are part of my DNA. There are so many stories I could write about. My experiences being involved in Community include the extraordinary people I have met along the way, and most of all the friends I have made. Being part of my community has enriched my life in ways I could not have imagined when I began my journey as a volunteer so long ago, helping to collect newspapers and tin cans."

Sunny Kaplan (standing, far right) volunteering at Super Sunday in the 1980s



June 09, 2015


Robyn Carmel