Lynn B. Edelman
Jewish Federation Feature
Stephen B. Klein believes that it is “an amazing coincidence” that he was selected as recipient of the Joseph Smukler Outstanding Community Leadership Award. The award, renamed in memory of a revered and respected Jewish communal leader and philanthropist who passed away in August, will be presented to Stephen at Federation’s Main Event, on Sunday, Nov. 4 at the Philadelphia Marriott Hotel.
On several occasions, Smukler’s widow, Connie, mentioned to Stephen that his late mother, Miriam, was her mentor in her own Jewish communal involvement. “Since my parents, Raymond and Miriam, were also my teachers and mentors for the Jewish values that guide the way I lead my life, this award seems very fitting,” Stephen explained.
Stephen is the third generation of Kleins to embrace the family tradition of giving back to the community. “My parents led by example and emphasized the importance of giving both time and resources to help those in need,” he said. Stephen traces his personal involvement in Jewish causes to 1973. It was then that he visited Israel and “experienced a personal moment of truth that changed my life.” Stephen plans to share this story with guests at the Nov. 4 Main Event.
For the past 15 years, he has maintained close connections with the Israeli neighborhood of Tel Giborim in the town of Holon, located just south of Tel Aviv. Stephen’s parents built the Klein Community Center there in 1992. During a visit to Philadelphia, Holon’s mayor, Moti Sasson, met with Stephen to solicit his support for a special project.
In 1998, Stephen and his mother returned to Tel Giborim and founded the Klein Family Sports Center, dedicated in Raymond Klein’s memory. Following the visit, Stephen received a thank-you letter from Mayor Sasson, which states in part: “Through your family’s generosity, hundreds of children, youth and adults in our Tel Giborim neighborhood enjoy two outstanding facilities.”
Tel Giborim was one of the three communities twinned with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia through Federation’s historic participation in Project Renewal — a program that for more than 20 years helped to improve distressed neighborhoods throughout Israel and strengthen relations between Israeli and Diaspora Jews.
This was the precursor to Partnership2Gether, a program that has built bridges between Philadelphia’s Jews and the residents of Netivot-Sedot Negev in southern Israel.
In the 1980s, Stephen served as a past president and honorary board member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Technion Society. He remains involved in Technion.
Earlier this year, he hosted Technion President Peretz Lavie and Nobel Prize winner Professor Aaron Ciechanover at a luncheon celebrating the launch of the Israeli university’s newest venture — the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute. This high-technology campus, the brainchild of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will be located on New York City’s Roosevelt Island. It will open its doors to graduate students in 2018.
Stephen recalled hosting an “exciting event” at his home to raise funds for the 2002 Israel Emergency Fund. “Gary Erlbaum and I were co-chairs of the Fund, and raised more than $3.2 million in one night to help Israel to rebuild after the first intifada,” he said, taking pride in the fact that “the IEF raised more than $13 million over the course of the campaign.”
The following year, Stephen was in Israel and was introduced to One Family, an organization that aids victims of terror attacks. After several emotional meetings with a few of these victims — many of whom were bereaved and suffering the physical and emotional effects of this devastating trauma — he was moved to support this group and host its first fundraising event in Philadelphia at the newly opened National Constitution Center. At this event, 15 victims of terror shared their stories with Philadelphia donors.
He has derived great satisfaction from his work with the young people served by Atidim, a project initiated by the Israel Defense Forces that takes young teens from the peripheral areas of the Jewish homeland and prepares them for engineering and science degrees from Israeli universities. This program has produced more than 4,000 graduates to date.
Technion is providing Israel with the engineers and scientists it needs to realize its status as one of the world’s leaders in high technology. Stephen maintains contact with numerous Atidim and Technion graduates who write about how their experiences have “changed their lives and made them productive members of Israeli society.”
Locally, Stephen is a passionate advocate and supporter of the work of Project H.O.M.E., a nonprofit organization that helps to empower adults, children and families to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty. He is enthusiastic about his work with organization founder, Sister Mary Scullion, to open a 25,000-square foot wellness center at 22nd Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue in North Philadelphia.
At the center, which is slated to open in 2014, the agency and its health care partner, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, will provide community-based, integrated, holistic health care and wellness services. “As Jews, we have an obligation to address social problems and help those who are in need, regardless of their race or religion,” Stephen said.
One of Stephen’s greatest challenges has been his work with the Klein JCC. His parents provided the initial $1 million gift that helped to establish the Northeast Philadelphia agency, which opened in 1975.
Stephen, who described the agency as “my parents’ pride and joy,” stepped up his personal involvement when the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia decentralized in 2009 and the Klein JCC became a separate organization.
“We reorganized the Klein JCC, changed programs, services and staffing, and obtained funding to provide for its survival,” said Stephen, who currently serves as chairman of the agency’s board of directors.
He said that “the facility is now financially stable and is expanding, with a state-of-the-art wellness center expected to open this year.”
He is the third generation of Kleins to worship at Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park. His mother was a past president of the congregation’s Women’s Association. During their lifetime, his parents endowed the synagogue’s religious school and, following his father’s death in 1995, he and his mother dedicated the main sanctuary in his father’s honor.
Stephen derives great satisfaction from the film he commissioned Sally Mitlas Productions to produce as a living legacy for his children and grandchildren. “The Klein Family in America: 1908-2010” tells the story of three generations of the Klein family. The film was made in celebration of Stephen’s birthday to enable his six grandchildren to “better understand their family history and, in particular, their deep involvement in philanthropy.”
“Hopefully, we are teaching the next generation of the Klein family about their obligations to help others at home and in Israel,” he concluded.
For more information about Federation’s Main Event on Sunday, Nov. 4, visit: jewishphilly.org/mainevent.