Born and bred in Chicago, Zahava Klein, 30, is proud of her imperviousness to the cold this winter.
As the director of Israel and Jewish advocacy for the Baltimore Jewish Council, Klein addresses issues regarding Israel as they relate to the Jewish community, whether it’s understanding the government and elections, Israel in the media, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or Israel’s technological advances. She has been to Israel several times, including for two years after high school to study in Jerusalem.
“I grew up in a very Zionistic family, and I have always felt a strong connection to the land,” Klein said. “I have three siblings both in the reserve and currently serving in the Israel Defense Forces, and Israel is never far from my mind.”
She has a bachelor’s in Judaic studies and a master’s in public administration with a focus in nonprofit management from the University of Baltimore. Klein moved to Pikesville about 7 years ago. Almost a year later, she married her husband Ezri. They have since had three sons: Shai, 6; Shua, 4; and Dovi, 10 months. The family
belongs to the Shomrei Emunah Congregation.
Explain your other responsibilities at BJC.
I also staff the Baltimore Israel Coalition, which is a consortium of more than 20 local organizations that work together to support Israel through education, advocacy, and community building. I focus on important topics that are not Israel-related, too. Among those is the taboo topic of addiction and behavioral health. Last year we partnered with Jewish Community Services, MedStar, Catholic Charities, and others to create a community-wide event focused on the importance of behavioral health. The other major program I run is the Leadership Development Program. It’s a commitment for young adults in the community to become leaders. We meet with community leaders and government officials.
Previously, you advocated for individuals with special needs at Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities. Why?
I first became involved in Yachad during my junior year of high school. A very close friend of mine has a brother with special needs, and when she presented me with the opportunity to participate, I couldn’t say no. When I returned to Chicago after college, the chapter had grown exponentially and I was lucky enough to find myself working for the organization. I actually met my husband at a weekend retreat I was running for Chicago Yachad. My brother-in-law Netanel has Down syndrome, and that was the reason a division was started here for young children, so staying involved with this incredible organization was a no-brainer.
What’s something you’ll miss from the past decade?
The thing I already miss about the last decade is the art of conversation and communication without the assistance of electronic devices or social media. While modern technology has allowed us to connect with the rest of the world and to stay informed of current events, there is something to be said about society’s dependence on cell phones and social media, and how it impacts our ability to develop long-lasting relationships.
What concerns you most about the community these days?
I was raised in a synagogue that was built by Holocaust survivors, people who left Europe and came to America with the hopes of being able to live as a Jew in public. As early as 7 years old, I was sitting in synagogue on Shabbat, walking down the streets with my brothers wearing their kippot and tzitzit, and getting around my elementary school campus without security guards hovering everywhere.
The rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in recent months has turned the world I once knew upside down. Seventy-five years after the end of World War II, I am living in America in fear because I have a mezuzah on my door. I constantly worry about my children’s safety in school and in synagogue on Shabbat. It’s not a normal fear to have.