At different times in his life a rabbi, a wrestler, a businessman, and a solider, Rabbi Rafael Halperin passed away last Saturday at his home in Bnei Brak. He was 87.
Halperin was born in Vienna in 1924, but his family soon moved to what was then known as British Mandate Palestine. From the very beginning, Halperin had an interest in bodybuilding, soon becoming a star weightlifter and a national karate champion.
However, Halperin’s true athletic love was wrestling. His accomplishments gave great pride to the Jewish community, especially when he won the free wrestling world championship following World War II by defeating a German wrestler while wearing pants with a Star of David on them.
After serving in the army during the War of Independence, Halperin traveled to the United States where he became the stuff of legend, wrestling under the moniker, Mr. Israel, and at one time winning a rumored 159 straight matches.
But Halperin soon returned to Israel to popularize professional wrestling in his homeland, as well as to try to make Israelis a more fit people as a whole. He soon opened Shimshon, a chain of bodybuilding centers before expanding his business empire to include restaurants and jewelry stores.
Later in life, Halperin focused on his religious studies, selling all his businesses so he could sit and study the Torah for thirteen hours at a time. He then established a discounted eyewear business that eventually grew to 128 stores, helping make glasses affordable in Israel.
In recent years, Halperin published a handful of books on the Torah. He is survived by his wife, five sons, two daughters, and more than 50 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
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