Connecting people to Jewish life is Samuel Klein’s passion and life calling. “My hope and aspiration is to be a weaver and connector of people,” helping them to see Judaism “from a place of possibilities,” he says.
Klein has brought his skills and experiences in building community to the Puget Sound region as the new Director of Jewish Engagement for the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Klein sees rich potential for developing and expanding community life, built on a foundation of strong relationships.
Klein came to Seattle from the Bay Area, where he served as Chief Jewish Officer for the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Klein was Director of Re-imagining Jewish Education Through Art at Yeshiva University Museum in New York and Executive Director of the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre in Montreal.
A deep understanding of “relational engagement” — the energy that meaningful relationships bring to community life — informs Klein’s work. He notes that Dr. Ron Wolfson’s seminal book, Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community, has anchored his work building community. “I have a passion for drawing from Wolfson’s wisdom and bringing it to Seattle,” he says.
For Klein, there are many pathways into the Jewish experience. “I’m a journeying Jew and find it meaningful to be in conversation about my Judaism. It’s not static, it’s dynamic,” he observes.
One way in which Klein plans to apply his relational engagement skills is creating more opportunities for mixed-heritage families to get involved in community life. Jewish Puget Sound, as Klein notes, is “the fastest-growing community for mixed-heritage families,” made up of Jewish and non-Jewish partners. In the region, as the 2014 Greater Seattle Jewish Community Study found, the intermarriage rate for Jews is well over 50 percent across age groups.
“My hope and aspiration is to explore new ways to bring those of mixed heritage to Jewish life,” Klein says.
An example from Klein’s experience sheds light on his approach to helping people make Jewish connections. In New York, Klein recalls, he created a “cross-communal network” to share Shabbat moments. “I would describe myself as a connector, weaving together different people who would not have otherwise met,” he notes.
Another critical influence on Klein was the late Maxine Greene, an educational philosopher and prolific writer who was Philosopher-in-Residence at the Lincoln Center Institute for the Arts in Education (now known as Lincoln Center Education) for 36 years. Greene “opened my mind to what is possible with Jewish engagement. It changed my life,” Klein says.
Klein brings to his work revealing insights about the power of the arts to draw people into connecting with Judaism in fresh and transformative ways. An artist who paints and draws as well as a lecturer on religion and the arts, Klein says, “the arts have been a source of Jewish imagination” — pathways to discovering personally meaningful Jewish experiences that arise from encountering, creating, and reflecting upon art.
Klein’s eclectic background in the arts, relational Judaism, and Jewish education will be a fount of imaginative thinking about creating new avenues of Jewish experience and ensuring Jewish continuity in a region of surging growth, diverse interests and attitudes about Judaism, and many demands on people’s time.
For Klein, it’s an exciting challenge. “Considering Seattle’s rapid growth, there are more people to engage than we’ve had before. How do we engage them? That is tremendously energizing,” he says.
For the whole community, newcomers and those who have lived here for many years, Klein’s skills, experience, and training will bring “extraordinary promise to expand and deepen life in our region. His collaborative style and strategic thinking will be an asset to our community. I am thrilled to have him join our team,” Federation President & CEO Nancy B. Greer says.