Hillsborough couple funds residence hall for Israeli school

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

When Jack and Elisa Klein first visited an Israeli school for at-risk and disadvantaged children in Haifa, their first thought was: How can we help?

The philanthropists, from Hills-

borough, have given millions of dollars over the past decade to a variety of causes in the Bay Area and Israel, where they often focus their philanthropic work on health care (donating to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem) and education (donating to several primary and secondary schools).

But when they visited this particular school, known as Yemin Orde Wingate Youth Village, they were struck by the enthusiasm and pride of the 500 children and teenagers — most of them immigrants and most of them orphaned.

“When we were there the first time, we were very impressed,” Elisa Klein said in a phone interview from Israel, where she and her husband were attending the dedication ceremony for the new building. She said she was most inspired by how the kids “express themselves, how appreciative they are, how thankful they are and how very willing to learn.”

At Yemin Orde, students live and attend school. The Kleins gave $450,000 to the youth village for the construction of a residential building that will accommodate 24 students; some have already moved into the 4,000 square-foot facility.

Per the Kleins’ request, the building was named in honor of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and his wife Marion.

“We thought about how to designate [this building] and I said, ‘I can only think of one name I want to honor,’ and that person was Elie Wiesel,” Jack Klein said. The Kleins admire Wiesel’s commitment to Israel and to human rights.

The building was finished this year and officially dedicated Nov. 18. More than 500 students, teachers and community members — along with Wiesel and his wife, Marion, and the Kleins — attended the ceremony. Students sang, danced, played music and spoke about how the youth village had changed their lives.

“When we give, we give it with a lot of pride and all our hearts,” Elisa said. “It’s a very beautiful feeling inside when you know you’re helping people in need.”

Elie Wiesel also spoke, joking that while he had disdain for San Francisco (after he was attacked in a hotel last year by a Holocaust denier), he now, because of the Kleins, has “a reason to like San Francisco again.”

The donation came from the Jack and Elisa Klein Foundation, which is a supporting foundation of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Endowment Fund.

“The Kleins have a very deep love for Israel, and a special concern and commitment to the young people,” said Lisa Gurwitch, executive director of the JCEF.

Gurwitch attended the dedication ceremony, which she said “gave everyone a sense of hope for the future of these individuals.”

Elisa Klein was born and raised in an Orthodox family in Mexico City. Jack Klein was born and raised in Tel Aviv. Both came to the United States in their 20s.

They met each other at Congregation Beth Sholom in San Francisco. Today, they attend Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame.

After they married, Jack started a real estate business, Elite Realty. They worked together, and the success of that endeavor has enabled them to give to so many causes they care about.

Though they especially love donating to Israeli organizations, they frequently support Bay Area agencies, such as their synagogue, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the Peninsula JCC, and the opera and symphony in San Francisco. They also frequently support national Jewish agencies such as ORT America and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

“We don’t want to leave too much [money] behind,” Jack said. “We want to give while we’re alive …”

“And can see the results,” Elisa interjected.

“That’s our motto,” Jack said.

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.