Judith Weinstein Klein, pioneering therapist, dies at 48

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Judith Weinstein Klein, a Berkeley psychotherapist and authority on Jewish identity and self-esteem, died of cancer at her home on Aug. 9, surrounded by family and friends. She was 48.

Developing a national reputation as a leader of workshops and public forums on self-hatred and ethnic stereotypes, she appeared on such programs as "Oprah Winfrey" and "Donahue."

"After everyone thought everything had already been said about ethnic self-esteem, she became a pioneer in the field," said Irving M. Levine, former director of the American Jewish Committee's Institute on Pluralism and Group Identity, which funded Klein's early research.

She was not content simply to probe the psychic wounds that shape behavior, said friend and colleague Joel Crohn, a Kensington therapist. "She was a healer."

"When Judith came to [Berkeley's] Wright Institute in the early 1970s, she saw alienation and confusion among young Jews in the Bay Area. Her own Jewishness was so solid, she was struck by the contrast," he said.

"There were a lot of radicalized Jews here who had been given mixed messages about being Jewish," he said. "They had grown up in the shadow of the Holocaust. Judith wanted to see them flourish in the sun."

While Klein focused on Jews who were alienated from Judaism, she had no such conflict in her own life. Her father, Rabbi Jacob Weinstein, led Chicago's progressive Temple KAM-Isaiah and Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco.

Her mother, Janet Harris Weinstein, was a social activist who championed the charitable Delancey Street organization. Klein's grandparents, Henry and Adella Harris, were early Zionists and active members of San Francisco's Jewish community.

Klein entered Wright Institute's doctoral program after receiving an undergraduate degree in psychology from U.C. Berkeley and a master's degree from Stanford.

After meeting Price Cobbs, the African American psychotherapist who created the field of ethnotherapy, she began exploring ethnic-identity issues in her private practice. She worked with Jewish community groups, exploring such stereotypes as "Jewish princes and princesses."

Through such work, Klein wrote, "negative stereotypes about one's self and one's ethnic group [were] expressed, explored and divested of their magic."

Her doctoral dissertation blazed a trail in this relatively new field, and a tract she wrote entitled "Jewish Identity and Self-Esteem" created a stir in her profession. A videotape on her ethnotherapy groups fueled the growing interest.

She "hit hard at some of the myths," Levine said. "She took a big risk in exposing the antipathy between Jewish men and women, but she found it was healable. She found that in therapy there was relief from negative emotions.

"Her work was very controversial," he said. "There was a lot of scoffing, especially at her work with Jewish women. But she took little pieces of the most evocative aspects of the psychology of being Jewish and brought them to life."

Her work helped therapists working with all ethnic minority, he noted.

Colleagues admired her ability to focus on family and clients while eschewing fame and fortune. "She [refused] a book contract once, because she wanted to spend more time with her sons," said Crohn.

She also "wanted a Jewish community that would be comfortable enough with itself to be multicultural. She wanted to get beyond the ethnicity that used to be so central to who we were as Jews…Young Jews in the Bay Area…are more comfortable with their Jewishness and Judaism today, and I think Judith had something to do with that."

Her husband, Mother Jones magazine editor Jeffrey Klein, agreed. "She loved her Jewish community. She was an active member of [Berkeley's] Congregation Beth El, and she read the Jewish Bulletin every week, cover to cover."

Another joy, he said, was riding her horse through the East Bay's Tilden Park. "It is a small horse, not much larger than a pony, but it's bred to run full-out. Judy was just about the only person who could ride it, because its pace matched her own."

Judith Weinstein Klein died on her 25th wedding anniversary. Her twin sister, Deborah, also a prominent Bay Area therapist, died of cancer two years ago. She is survived by her husband and sons Jacob, 17, and Jonah, 12; sister Ruth Levine of Chicago; brother Dan Weinstein of San Francisco; three nephews and three nieces.

Contributions can be made to the Homeless Program Fund, c/o Congregation Beth El, 2301 Vine St., Berkeley, CA 94708.