Elise Klein 1958-2009
Founder and President
A message from David Bedell
November 8, 2009
It is with great sadness that I have to report the death of Elise Klein, president and founder of Teachers Against Prejudice, as well as my partner of twelve years. She passed away suddenly on the evening of November 4 due to a cardiovascular event.
I believe most of us have come to TAP through our acquaintance with Elise. She had so many different circles of friends and colleagues who loved and respected her for who she was and what she did. Having lost most of her biological family by the time she was 30, she created a new family along the way, gathering members from many nations and all walks of life.
Much of her professional life was spent teaching English to international students, starting in Germany and then for many years with ELS Language Centers in New York and New Haven, and also with American Language Academy in Portland, Oregon, and Boston. Many of you met Elise during one of her presentations at the annual conventions for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). It was while teaching classes full of students from many nations that Elise developed the concept of TAP, using popular media to spark discussion of prejudice and to bridge cultural differences.
After starting TAP, she often worked with independent schools, and she spoke a few times at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference. Her work took her everywhere from Wisconsin to Texas to Hawaii to Brazil. Last month she gave the keynote address at a national conference of English teachers in Mexico, followed by two talks at the Mexican Supreme Court. Everywhere she traveled, Elise wanted to learn about local history and local culture, and she loved to bring back souvenirs if she could buy them directly from local artisans. She had a special affinity for Native American culture, and despite her busy work schedule, she managed to fit in vacations to Alaska, Utah, and South Dakota, combining visits to Indian reservations and visits to national parks.
Elise was dedicated to interfaith cooperation and respect. Proud of her own Jewish traditions, for several years she ran a program for interfaith families in our local area, and one of her most treasured moments came two years ago when she received a Leadership Award from the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford.
She was also committed to justice for LGBT people. Just two weeks ago, she spoke at the New Jersey Gay-Straight Alliance Forum, on the subject of alliance building. When Connecticut legalized same-sex civil unions in 2005, Elise became a Justice of the Peace, and she was looking forward to speaking about same-sex ceremonies at a conference for Connecticut JPs this Saturday. Of all her many jobs, I think she enjoyed her work as a JP the most; she considered it a pleasure, not work, to bring together two people who love each other.
Finally, and perhaps most important, she was a devoted mother to her son, David. When David was younger, Elise worked hard to make sure he got the best education possible, both in school and through travel and other experiences. I remember not long after I met Elise, she told me she just hoped to live long enough to see David graduate from high school. She got her wish, and in fact lived to see him graduate from college and enter graduate school. She was intensely proud of him, and she will live on through him and through everyone else her life has touched and inspired.
Elise followed her passions and was doing everything she loved at the time of her death. TAP will never be the same without her, but I hope we will carry on TAP's mission and continue as a community dedicated to combating prejudice.
We are having a private burial, but are planning a public memorial service for Elise sometime in the spring, to which you will all be invited.
A memorial service for Elise Klein was held:
Friday, May 28, 2010, 2:00-4:00 PM
at the German Club
University of New Haven
420 Boston Post Road
West Haven, CT 06516
Donations in memory of Elise can be mailed to:
116 New Norwalk Road
New Canaan, CT 06840