Elizabeth Klein vividly remembers her many visits with her grandmother, Janet, in Peoria, Ill., when she was a girl. She recalls her grandmother’s pride in Judaism, her synagogue, her community and the various volunteer efforts she contributed to. While it would take her years to realize it, her grandma Janet and her other grandparents’ beliefs in a strong Jewish world is what set Klein on a lifelong journey of promoting equality, helping those around her and, most importantly, keeping the Jewish religion alive and strong.
“I know I’m here for only a certain amount of time, and I feel a responsibility to do good while I’m here in both the Jewish and general communities,” Klein said. “I am very committed to the Jewish world and I try to make it stronger. It’s really about feeling extremely grateful and wanting to give back. Obviously, there’s enough work that needs to be done in this world right now, and I can’t just sit and watch; it’s not in my nature.”
She dabbled in volunteer work growing up in Cleveland, but it was after she graduated from the University of Wisconsin and moved to New York City when she picked up a copy of The New York Times and read about the AIDS crisis. With her interest piqued, she began her career into the world of fundraising for nonprofit organizations. She continued this work at the American Red Cross in St. Paul, Minn., and co-founded the Hemophilia Foundation for Minnesota and the Dakotas.
“This notion of how lucky and fortunate I am and that not everybody is – I’ve always felt that responsibility to give back and try to make the world better. I know it sounds corny, but that’s really how I am,” she said.
Those values and her work for AIDS followed her to Cleveland Heights, where she returned with her husband to start a family. Her husband, Earl, and she made sure to imbue their daughter and son with their pride of Judaism and their own responsibility to the community and the world.
She worked in the community on various projects, such as planning a new playground at Fairfax Elementary School in Cleveland Heights, creating an annual community HIV/AIDS Passover seder she co-founded with her husband, participating in AIDS walks and donating whatever time she could spare to various causes. She joined the Jewish Federation of Cleveland in 2006, where she held two positions as director of women’s philanthropy and senior development di-rector.
It was during her 10 years with the Federation that Klein helped push for equal leadership opportunities for women, feeling inspired by the women she worked alongside of and looked up to.
“I was fortunate in my position to work with Federation leaders to take a serious look at how women become involved in the Federation and how to attract all different kinds of Jewish women, all while simultaneously making a concerted effort to move more women into leadership positions across the Jewish community,” she said. “It’s so exciting to see that more than half the board of the Federation are women, that there’s a woman president of the Federation now, that there are women in the pipeline in the Federation, the synagogues, the day schools and social services – that the value women bring to the table is part of the conversation now.”
Klein left her position with the Federation in 2016 to focus on her job leading Case Western Reserve University’s phase two work on its Maltz Performing Arts Center in University Circle to raise money to bring theater, dance and music to the center. She also volunteers with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America and Community of Hope Cleveland, where she serves as a mentor to a person aging out of the foster care system. She still volunteers with the Federation as a conversation partner with an Israeli woman in Beit Shean over Skype to help improve her English.
“I am proud to be part of a Jewish community that is generous and kind and working to repair the whole world.” Klein said. “I hope that I make my ancestors proud by what I’m trying to accomplish in my life and how their lessons continue to guide me. There are so many incredible people working in our Jewish community that are doing really amazing stuff, and so I feel like definitely working with smart, committed people on a common cause gets me out of bed every morning. I think living the values of Judaism helps me to be a better person.”