Elise Klein

As published in the New Canaan Advertiser, Monday, 17 May 2010:

Elise Renée Klein

Elise Renée Klein, international educator, justice of the peace and nonprofit leader, died at her home in New Canaan on November 4, 2009. She was 51.

She was buried privately at Long Ridge Union Cemetery on November 8, but a public memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, May 28, at the University of New Haven's German Club.

Known locally as a justice of the peace, Ms. Klein was also the founder and president of Teachers Against Prejudice, an organization educating against prejudice of all kinds. At the time of her death, she was employed as director of the ELS Language Center on the University of New Haven campus, a subsidiary of Berlitz International.

Ms. Klein was born on January 8, 1958, in Riverdale, N.Y., the daughter of David Martin Klein and Lenore Rothstein. She graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, majoring in environmental science and Canadian studies. She also studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary years before it began to ordain female rabbis.

At the start of her career, she worked for the Social Security Administration in Chicago and New York, then for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in New York and Stuttgart, Germany. She made the decision to move to Germany in 1986 because she wanted to explore the history and causes of the Holocaust.

In Germany, Ms. Klein married Ruediger Wemhoener and had one son, David Wemhoener. She taught English language classes at Clausthal University of Technology, beginning a career as a teacher.

Returning to New York in 1990, she taught for ELS Language Centers, advancing to the position of academic director of the New Haven center. She moved to New Canaan in 1998 when she was hired by American Language Academy as a program director and curriculum writer. In this capacity, she ran schools in Portland, Oregon and in Boston, Mass.

Ms. Klein launched her own consulting business in 2000 and in the same year founded Teachers Against Prejudice, which she described as "her second child." Using techniques such as essay contests and film discussions, Ms. Klein developed ways for young people to confront such difficult subjects as racism, sexism and homophobia. She wrote many critical analyses of movies, television and current events, and she traveled extensively to speak at schools and educational conferences. Just weeks before her death, she spoke at the Mexican Supreme Court.

In recent years, she also served as diversity coordinator for the Greenwich YWCA and ran an outreach program for interfaith families at the United Jewish Federation of Greater Stamford, New Canaan and Darien.

In 2005, Ms. Klein became a justice of the peace in New Canaan, and in that capacity she officiated at many weddings and civil unions, specializing in same-sex and interfaith ceremonies. She took great pleasure in bringing together two people who love each other, family members said.

In 2008, Ms. Klein returned to ELS Language Centers, this time to re-open the center in New Haven and serve as director. The last year of her life was very busy but also very satisfying, family said, as she was never happier than when working with students every day.

Before and after starting her own nonprofit, Ms. Klein was a "tireless volunteer" for many organizations. She was active in Connecticut and national Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, and often represented it and her nonprofit at the annual United Nations Conference for Non-Governmental Organizations.

In addition, she served on the advisory boards of the Avon Theatre in Stamford and the Discovery Center in Farmington. She was a long-time supporter of the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, and a volunteer with the 1995 Special Olympics World Games.

For her work on interfaith dialog and combating prejudice, she was presented with the 2007 Testimony to Leadership Award from the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford.

When she found time to relax, Ms. Klein loved hiking, camping and exploring other lands and cultures. Throughout her life, she visited many of the national parks and Indian reservations of the United States and Canada.

Ms. Klein was predeceased by her parents and her brother, Joel Marc Klein.

In addition to her son, Ms. Klein is survived by her life partner David Bedell; an aunt, Sheila Rothstein, and an uncle, Gary Rothstein, both of Boynton Beach, Fla.

Memorial donations may be made to Teachers Against Prejudice, 116 New Norwalk Road, New Canaan, CT 06840.