Amian Kelemer fosters Jewish education

Amian Kelemer with her family in Israel
Amian Kelemer (third from left) with her family in Israel (Shiraz Biton Bendayan)

For nearly 30 years, Amian Kelemer has worked to promote Jewish education in Baltimore.

Kelemer, 53, is the CEO of the Macks Center for Jewish Education, which supports lifelong learning for members of the Jewish community.

“Our goal is to support people in finding their rootedness in the Jewish community and recognizing that they’re part of something bigger than themselves,” Kelemer said.

Kelemer grew up on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia, where she attended a Conservative congregation with her family, went to Hebrew school and enrolled in a Jewish day school. When she was a student at Barnard College, she studied at Rika Breuer Teachers Seminary and Neveh Yerushalayim.

After moving to Baltimore, where her family currently belongs to Shomrei Emunah, Kehilath B’nai Torah, Mercaz Torah U’Tefillah and The Shul at the Lubavitch Center, Kelemer first pursued her passion of working with the deaf community.

That led her to teach at Gesher LaTorah, a Jewish school in the city for students with disabilities. The school is facilitated by the CJE, and when Kelemer eventually became principal of Gesher LaTorah, she joined the staff of the agency.

“I didn’t expect to be involved in Jewish education per se, but I found my heart there and from there have been at the agency for almost 30 years,” Kelemer said.

She has held various roles at CJE, including in disability and inclusion services and as the associate executive vice president, before being named CEO four years ago.

As the CEO, Kelemer is the liaison to the board and The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, which supports the agency. She is responsible for the vision and culture of CJE and for strategizing how to ensure that Jewish educational opportunities reach the people that they are meant to serve.

Kelemer finds it fulfilling to be able to support the breadth of the Jewish community in Baltimore.

“We’re working with educators who are in all different settings, including Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Reform schools, and we are also working with community members who haven’t necessarily found a connection to the organized Jewish community,” she said. “It’s really exciting to be able to meet the needs of that range of people.”

The pandemic presented significant challenges for CJE, as it did for everyone working in education. But the agency learned to pivot its services to continue to offer them safely.

“We were very, very busy during the pandemic delivering kits for remote education. That was a huge shift for us; we hadn’t done that kind of work before,” Kelemer said. “The staff really rose to the occasion and did a beautiful job.”

CJE also focused on how they could continue to bring people together during the pandemic.

“We had a Tot Shabbat every week in [a] park where we designated spaces for families by putting down blankets and giving them physical distance but also allowing people to gather,” she said.

Tot Shabbat, which brings together families with children up to the age of 5, is one of the many ways that CJE supports young Jewish families in Baltimore. The agency also facilitates the PJ Library, which distributes Jewish children’s books.

CJE also delivers a Jewish baby book as part of a gift box to Jewish families in Baltimore when they have their first baby.

Some other programs include Belly Talk for expectant mothers, and Baby Talk for families to get together to talk about how to integrate Jewish life in their parenting practices after their baby is born.

Though she didn’t necessarily expect to work in Jewish education for the majority of her professional life, Kelemer has found it incredibly fulfilling.

“To see the whole range of people who connect and affiliate and don’t affiliate in all different ways, but having them find that spark for Jewish education is really exciting to me,” Kelemer said.

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