Linda Z. Klein’s history with Federation goes back as far as she can remember. “My father always was involved with Israel and local Jewish causes. It just seemed to be part of our life,” she says. As a young mother with three children in school, she had little time to volunteer, but took an active part in Federation’s Junior Division. Linda returned to school herself in the mid-70s. While working toward her law degree from Wayne State, she jumped into to her first leadership role at Federation, in the Women’s Division as Chair of a newly formed Career Women’s Group. “I enjoyed that experience – giving my time and energy – and have been involved ever since.”
Moving through the ranks of the Women’s Campaign and Education Department (now Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy), Linda served as its Campaign Chair and then President from 1995-1997. On the Federation Board since 1991, she has served as Co-Chair of the Annual Campaign, Chair of Federation’s Israel and Overseas Committee and Planning and Allocations Committee and Associate Chair of Miracle Mission II. Spearheading community events and initiatives too numerous to mention, Linda also has served as President of JVS and held positions on many boards including The Jewish Fund, JARC, Yad Ezra, Friends of Modern Art, Music Hall Center, the Detroit Artists’ Market, National Council of Jewish Women and Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
There’s Linda’s career as a volunteer; and there’s her philanthropy. Living the legacy of giving, from one generation to the next, and in memory of hers parents, Paul and Helen, and her brother, Norbert, Linda and her family have created the Zuckerman Klein Global Unmet Needs Fund as part of Federation’s Centennial Fund Endowment Campaign to secure the future of Jewish Detroit and in support of Jews through the world.
Celebrating 55 years of marriage, Linda and Tom are the parents of daughters, Kathy Bresler (married to Peter) and Elizabeth Brodsky (married to Steve), both of Chicago, and son, Jon (married to Gretchen) of L.A; they are blessed with six wonderful grandchildren. Summers at the Klein home in Bloomfield Hills bring an annual eight-week visit from the California Kleins with the two youngest grandchildren.
On early years and family history
myJewishDetroit: What are your first memories of your father’s involvement in the community?
My father was always very involved in community activities, but Israel was his passion. My first memories, as a young child of four or five, were his Sunday excursions. He was just starting out in business in those days and couldn’t have had a lot of resources to contribute, but I can still picture him on those Sunday mornings, heading out in a green Oldsmobile – which he kept parked outside of our house on Ilene Street – to attend to what I assume to be Federation meetings. He was a very young man, and Israel wasn’t yet a state, but somehow he just knew he needed to be a part of it and give his support.
I will never forget the day Israel was declared a State. We were members of Temple Israel and I was in a Sunday school and the rabbi was telling us all about it. Even as a little girl, it meant something of great significance to me because my father had been talking about Israel so much.
My father – and my mother, Helen – were both ardent supporters of Israel. They were a great pair and they spent many times in Israel in a house they built in Caesarea. My father’s highest achievement in the Jewish world was to be the National Chair of the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. In his term that began in 1971, he logged hundreds of thousands of miles to Israel to lead the greatest fundraising effort in the history of the UJA. So that was a very big deal for everyone in the family and, in the years that followed, my parents became close personal friends of many of the founders and builders of Israel, including Golda Meir, David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan and Teddy Kollek. These were my parents’ real true friends, whom they would invite to Shabbat dinners in Caesarea. In fact, there’s a room that Tom and I dedicated at JVS where we have shared a remarkable collection of historic and very personal photos – where my dad and mom are pictured with so many of these famous and iconic Israelis. I invite anyone who is interested to go and see this really wonderful room.
On Velvet Peanut Butter
myJD: What was it like growing up as the daughter of “Detroit’s Peanut Butter King?”
It was always great fun knowing that my father’s business was Velvet peanut butter and later Krun-Chee potato chips. When I was little, I spent a lot of time at the peanut butter plant. I loved to watch the machines pour the peanut butter into the jars. I rode around with the workers seeing all the different parts that went into making Velvet “homogenized “peanut butter. When our kids were little, they all had many birthday parties taking their friends to the Velvet plant and all of their friends loved it. Velvet peanut butter was a very big part of our family life and identities and it was definitely a positive influence on all of us.
On family life and career moves
myJD: How did you and Tom meet?
I met Tom during Thanksgiving break in my senior year of undergrad and his senior year of law school at the University of Michigan. I had heard about how nice and terrific he was and told a friend of his I wanted to go out with him and luckily he called. We were married that next August. He was an early inspiration to me at Federation as he got involved before I did. He was in National Young Leadership Cabinet of the UJA and won the Frank A. Wetsman Award for Young Leadership. In later years, Tom was an officer of Federation and the United Jewish Foundation and President of the JCC. Of all the mentors and inspirations I have had, he is Numero Uno. He is 1000% supportive, often pushing me to do things when I think I can’t. Also, he is the funniest and most fun person to spend time with. He is an amazing dad and grandfather too. He has had a very challenging year with a back surgery and a fractured hip, but he is working like a dog to get back to good health and he is doing very well.
myJD: What drew you to law?
Truth? I was the typical 1960’s housewife, raising my kids, feeling a bit like I needed to do more. I was drawn to psychology, but chose law, because I thought that the study of law was more intellectually challenging. (I practiced for about six years. In retrospect, I probably should have been a social worker because that is more of my thing.)
myJD: What are some of your sweetest memories working on behalf of the Jewish Federation and the greater Detroit community?
There are so many and, in the process, I’ve made so many close friends – but here’s a short list:
- My role as leader on so many committees: in particular, Campaign Chair and President of Women’s Philanthropy, and Federation’s Annual Campaign Chair with Peter Alter
- Being a part of Federation’s Partnership 2000 program in Israel, now Partners2Gether
- Working on the Women’s Department 50th Anniversary Musical Show and the Archival Exhibit
- Co-Chairing Federation’s Centennial Celebration at the DSO with Yitzhak Perlman in concert
Back in the day, we were a bit more hands-on in planning and executing the big events and programs and we had a wonderful time doing it. But it is a little different being a lay leader these days, because thankfully, we have a lot of professional staff support to help plan and manage the details every step of the way. The lay leaders still work very hard.
myJD: Describe your first (or most memorable) mission to Israel.
I’ve been to Israel now so many times, I’ve stopped counting. My first trip to Israel was in 1968, the year after the Six Day War. Tom was part of the National Young Leadership Cabinet Mission to Israel; my dad was something of a celebrity there at the time and that made it extra fun. On that trip, we met two couples with whom we are friends to this day.
After the Yom Kippur War, we went back on another national mission. Our purpose was to visit the injured – mostly burned – soldiers in hospitals. Polaroid cameras were new and the soldiers loved having their pictures taken and being able to get them right away. They were so young and it was so moving to see all that they had sacrificed for their country.
Miracle Mission I was also a highlight. It was so amazing to take more than 800 people to Israel in such an organized and excellent manner. It really was quite a miracle.
We don’t have family in Israel, but I have friends who are as close as any I have anywhere, and I feel like Israel is my second home.
On leadership development and philanthropy
myJD: The Zuckerman Leadership Program is a Federation milestone, now a model for developing cohorts of emerging leaders in the community. How did it start?
Bob Aronson – former CEO of Federation – had the insight to cultivate a cadre of people to become fundraising leaders. He came to my mother with the proposal that she consider funding the program. His idea was a year-long seminar involving monthly meetings in the homes of the participants, with the agreement that each one of us would be trained to serve as campaign chairs. The program kicked off with a trip to Washington, DC and culminated with a trip to Israel.
Long story short, we had many wonderful experiences, became fast friends and came out of the program knowing that we had a group of people we could always count on for an unequivocal Yes! for anything we asked or needed.
myJD: Most recently, you and Tom established the Zuckerman Klein Unmet Global Needs Fund as part of Federation’s Centennial Campaign. Briefly, share where some of those funds are going today.
Tom and I decided to direct the fund to our Israel and Overseas partners, to honor both my parents who felt so passionately about supporting Jewish causes on a global level. So far, we’re supporting a program that Federation is very involved in at Ben Yakir, a Youth Aliyah Village. Ben Yakir provides a home and schooling for a group of religious – mostly Ethiopian – boys who, for various reasons, are disadvantaged and not able to get what they need to succeed at home. The goal is to try to help turn around these youth at risk, give them the skills they need to achieve, get into the army and then go on to a vocation or higher education. For this project, our funds – which were left by my mother – went towards remodeling a dormitory which we named the Helen Zuckerman Dormitory. It is bright and beautiful. And the boys are able to live with all the comforts of a lovely home. We plan to continue to support Ben Yakir through our family Centennial Fund.
The first actual project of the Zuckerman Klein Global Unmet Needs Fund went to support the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind. We chose to support this – the only such center in Israel – in honor of my brother, Norb, who loved dogs. So far, we have sponsored a dog for a young 23-year-old soldier who was blinded in a tunnel while leading his troops in Gaza. The Center is a beautiful, clean and caring place and our fund will continue to support it. They have a great story and I hope to have a fundraiser at our home sometime in the future to tell their story to our friends and colleagues in Michigan.
myJdD: Linda, of all your achievements, what makes you most proud?
First of all, of course, my marriage, our children and our grandchildren and the life we have all built together. Then, what comes to mind first, is the variety of leadership roles I’ve been able to play at Federation and as President of JVS.
Proudest moments? For sure, receiving the Butzel Award is right up there – a great honor. Particularly since I have known so many – actually practically all – of the recipients through the years, including my own father. There’s so much history for me there, it’s like coming full circle.
Also, last year Tom and I were honored by Yad Ezra – the Kosher Food Pantry. Our children were all in attendance and were the main speakers. That truly was one of the most wonderful experiences in our lives.
Restaurants: Phoenicia in Birmingham and Pepino’s in Sylvan Lake
Place to meet for coffee: Starbucks
Building in the Detroit: The Lobby of the Guardian Building
Place to take kids or visitors: The Detroit Zoo, The Henry Ford Museum
Places to travel: Venice, Italy, New York, NY, Long Boat Key, FL
Sports: Golf to play and tennis to watch.
Jewish Holiday: Passover
Jewish Food: Matzah with butter, chicken soup and brisket
Jewish Expression: Oy
Guilty pleasures: Food in general, pizza and ribs in particular
Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow, because I was so lucky to see and so loved the Broadway show.