Get to Know Addie Lewis Klein, Aaron Levitt and Jessica Fink: Changing Jewish Engagement in Baltimore

An educator, a librarian and a Jewish communal professional. What do they have in common? All three recently took up the reins of The Associated’s three newest agencies, with a goal of boosting Jewish engagement. 

Now that they’ve had a year under their belt, we spoke to these three new executives. They told us about what they’ve done, where they see their work headed and added a few interesting fun facts about themselves.  

Get to know these three transplants – Addie is from Arkansas, Aaron from Massachusetts and Jessica originally from New York—who are making Baltimore their new home.  

Addie Lewis Klein Executive Director, Macks Center for Jewish Connections 

Addie Lewis Klein and family

What made you want to become a Jewish communal professional? 
I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas in a small, tight-knit Jewish community. My brother and I were the only Jewish kids in public school. We loved going to synagogue and Hebrew school—there were only six of us in my Hebrew school grade. We had a DIY (do it yourself) Jewish community – if you wanted it, you built it. As a result, we got a lot of hands-on experience in leadership positions and a lot of us ultimately became Jewish communal professionals. 

In your first year as head of the Macks Center for Jewish Connections, what are you most proud of? 
We brought disparate teams together and began to create a new way of doing engagement work that is focused more on people than on programs. Chair Lauren Ades and I have had an amazing year, and we are so impressed with the board and the great team from the former Macks CJE and JVC (Jewish Volunteer Connection). 

So where does the agency go next? 
In the fall, we will launch as a new brand that is really focused on engaging those who are currently unengaged. We will be working with young families through empty nesters; inviting them to co-create relational communities. It’s all about people and connections — with your Jewish friends, we want you to explore your own Jewish journey. 

I know you like to read. Any recommendations? 
I just finished reading Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. I didn’t want it to end. And I just read Hello Beautiful which is a new take on one of my childhood favorites, Little Women.  

What do people not know about you? 
I think probably people wouldn’t know that I actually have a shy side. Growing up, I was as a strong math and science student and tutored Chelsea Clinton in math. She was two years behind me in school, until she moved to D.C. 

Aaron Levitt, Executive Director, Jewish Educational Services 

Aaron Levitt and family

It’s been a year. What are you most proud of?  
We’ve managed to merge two different agencies (CJE and SHEMESH) into one, Jewish Educational Services (JES), creating a hub for Jewish educational support in Baltimore. Now, whether you are looking for student support services, professional development or any other kind of educational guidance, JES is here to help. 

Challenges ahead?  
We are facing a national crisis in teacher retention and recruitment. In order to be able to offer excellence in Judaic and general studies education, we need to be able to recruit, compensate, support and train teachers appropriately. We are also seeing increased need for student support services, which will continue to rise as enrollments go up. To meet these challenges, we will need to invest even more in Jewish education. There can be no greater investment than building tomorrow’s leaders. 

Israel played a central part in your life.  
My family moved to Israel from Boston when I was three. At the same time, a family from London and a family from Montreal moved into the same absorption center, and the families became friends. Although we all moved back to our home countries, we stayed in touch. Years later, on my way home from studying in Israel, I stopped in London to tour and stayed with our family friends, whose daughter eventually became my wife. We hadn’t seen each other since we were little. Our parents, who were disappointed that making Aliyah didn’t work out, now look back and can say, ‘we did it so that our kids would one day meet and get married.’ Now, our own daughter has made Aliyah and we are so proud of her. 

Who would you invite to your Shabbat table?  
I would love to be able to meet all the people we read about in the Torah and ask them what they were thinking and feeling during the ups and downs of their journeys. But then I also would love to meet all the great scholars from history who have interpreted those verses and understand their lives and their times and their perspectives. How great would it be to travel through Jewish history one Shabbat meal at a time? 

You are an avid sports fan.  
Big Boston fan. Love the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins. 

Jessica Fink, Executive Director, Jewish Library of Baltimore 

Jessica Fink and family

Most proud?  
There is no single answer here — I am beyond proud of everything this library has accomplished no matter how big or small. For example, increasing our hours may seem like no big deal, but it speaks volumes about our growth. Similarly, I am overjoyed by the enormous ways we’ve increased our reach. The library originally started as an educator’s library and now we are seeing it meet the needs of all members of our community. We’ve been able to hire an amazing and knowledgeable staff of librarians who care. We are moving toward the point where most people know about us and look to us as a resource, as well as a place where they can come and confidently find whatever they are looking for.  

The library is building a national reputation.  
That’s right — and we are a model for other libraries too. We taught a course on community outreach as part of the Association of Jewish Libraries’ continuing education for people involved or interested in Judaic librarianship. And we are working on professional development so that we can take what we’ve learned and what we’ve done in the Baltimore Jewish community to showcase to the rest of the world. There are many communities where students and synagogues don’t have access to resources, and we can help bring meaningful change. 

Where do you see the library in the next few years?  
We are in the process of physically building a new library in the Weinberg Park Heights JCC and I am so excited to see the finished product. I envision it serving as a community hub — a place that goes beyond books. It will be brimming with individuals of all ages. There will be more programming, more activities and more space with nooks for tutoring and learning. We will even have a laptop bar. I cannot wait to see the countless ways in which our community will be enriched by this new and improved library. 

I have to ask. What is your favorite book?  
I would say People of the Book: a Novel by Geraldine Brooks. And for parents, Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Raising Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel. Though these are two standouts, I love constantly reading new additions to our collection and providing recommendations. 

What do people not know about you?  
I didn’t become a runner or a reader until college. And if you know me, those are my two passions.  

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