Elie Klein paints a mezuzah with the “Bat Mitzvah Twins,” a neurotypical Bat Mitzvah from the US and a longtime ADI resident, during their joint celebration at ADI Jerusalem.
“When you live a life of true humanity, it changes the world.”
For nearly 15 years, Elie Klein has worked tirelessly to promote the work of ADI. Known for its special education, cutting-edge therapies, and residency programs, ADI has become one of Israel’s most impactful organizations for people with disabilities.
But Elie wasn’t always ADI’s North American Director of Development, and he wasn’t always in the world of disability care and inclusion. In fact, Elie was a PR “hired gun” for over a decade, representing and marketing several companies and nonprofits in Israel.
A passion and purpose for disability rights, discovered later in life
When Elie was growing up in Baltimore, he felt there were two chesed tracks that he and his friends could participate in.
“There were two ways to go: you did NCSY (kiruv) or you were doing Yachad. For some reason I just couldn’t see myself doing a good job with individuals with disabilities,” Elie said.
But after the birth of his first child, Elie was overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude; he realized that a healthy baby is not a guaranteed reality for every parent.
“All ten fingers and toes, a healthy heart, a healthy brain… Not everyone is that lucky,” Elie said. “I realized I needed to help out, and when ADI entered my life, it became a passion.”
In 2008, Elie and his family made aliyah. Within two months, he secured a job at an international PR firm and was tasked with bringing in new nonprofit clients and servicing them, restructuring their branding, securing their English language media coverage, and running their social media feeds.
The first client he brought in was ADI, and he quickly fell in love with the organization.
“There are two main rules in nonprofit PR,” Elie said. “One: give the client the best service you can in the time allotted. Two: do not play favorites or overservice any particular client… But I fell in love with ADI and everything they stood for. I admit it; I overserviced them for 11 years.”
While he worked with tens of impactful nonprofit organizations, Elie realized he truly had a favorite client.
“I asked myself, ‘Who am I fooling?’” Elie said.
That epiphany led him to decide to switch career gears. He approached his client at ADI and asked her if he could join ADI’s team, full time, as Director of Development. And he has not looked back since.
What does it mean to be ADI’s Director of Development?
As the Director of Development, Elie also retains responsibilities as its Director of Media Relations. He believes that both sides of the coin allow him to collect stories and give them right back to donors, engaging them in ADI’s work.
Elie’s goal is to let supporters know what’s going on in real-time, and he believes that sharing stories of impact is essential to building a core of daily givers who want to make a direct impact.
“There’s no such thing as taking off hats in the nonprofit world,” Elie said. “I’m thrilled to do both. I’m the guy who collects the stories, who cultivates information and pictures. My media relations and development roles go hand-in-hand.”
For Elie, working at ADI is more than just a job; it’s a calling. He wants to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities and show the world that they are just as valuable and important as anyone else. Part of that goal is involving his family in his progress.
“When I was switching from the PR firm to ADI, my wife and I decided that our kids were still young enough that we could include them in the transition,” Elie said. “So we took them to a Friday morning breakfast to celebrate my new job. I announced, ‘Hey guys, I’ll be working for ADI full-time now.’”
Elie’s children were confused.
“But Abba, don’t you already do that?” they said.
“It was clear then, that I was so passionate about ADI, and my children recognized it,” Elie said.
ADI’s special mission
In Hebrew, ADI means “a beautiful, precious gem.” Elie considers ADI his bonus family because of what it stands for.
“It is our precious mission to care for precious individuals – and some of those individuals are often overlooked,” Elie said. “Many people assume that those with disabilities are people who can stay in the shadows. At ADI, we couldn’t disagree more. Every person is important. We never know what we can get out of having another jewel.”
In addition to meaning jewel, ADI is also an acronym for Ability, Diversity, and Inclusion. By reimagining rehabilitation, ADI is advancing ability for all, including children, adolescents, and adults with severe disabilities, and pioneering cutting-edge therapeutic and recovery services for anyone touched by disability.
ADI also provides the community at-large with tangible opportunities for encountering disability, raising awareness, and promoting acceptance.
The ADI family includes staff, volunteers, residents and special education students from every religious and cultural background, including those who made Aliyah from the Former Soviet Union and from Ethiopia, as well as National Service volunteers from across the country.
“Diversity is promoting the true reality of Judaism as a spectrum,” Elie said. “When people walk through ADI they just see each other as human beings. We are highlighting the true beauty of humanity and that every single person changes everything.”
One of Elie’s proudest achievements at ADI is its integrated kindergarten classrooms.
“The idea is that we have one kindergarten for neurotypical students, and right next door is a kindergarten for early intervention, to help children with disabilities reach their greatest potential. At every opportunity, we integrate the classes to promote acceptance from the youngest possible age,” Elie said.
At first, there was pushback from parents of neurotypical children, who were skeptical of their child being a social advocate at such a young age.
“But when they saw the kinds of human beings coming home from school, it changed everything. They saw that their children were becoming much more empathetic. To them, inclusion was just normal. This is the way the world should be. Their own peers were encouraging them, teaching them how to persevere,” Elie said.
Currently, ADI has two integrated classrooms. Next year, ADI is opening a brand new integrated school complex with 14 new classes.
“This is the way forward. This empathy, and we need to teach it at every age,” Elie said.
How ADI’s mission overlaps with Daily Giving
ADI became a Daily Giving beneficiary in 2020, in Daily Giving’s second year. Today, ADI receives over $14,000—and counting—every few months from Daily Givers.
“It makes a HUGE difference,” Elie said. “$14,000 is an entire specialized wheelchair. It can provide hydrotherapy sessions. It can give respiratory therapy to children otherwise not receiving the level they needed from the government.”
Elie emphasized that even the smallest contribution can have a significant impact on ADI’s special education students and residents. Funds from Daily Givers help close out campaigns and ensure that ADI has the basic equipment it needs to provide top-quality care to its residents and special education students.
“Sometimes, we may just be able to do a little bit, but it’s that little bit that makes a huge impact,” Elie said. “For our special education students and residents, many were told that they didn’t have potential. So even a tiny smile or taking their first independent steps or feeding themselves amounts to huge progress. In each one of these ultimate goals, there are so many little steps along the way. They add up.”
Ultimately, the missions of ADI and Daily Giving are closely aligned, as both organizations are committed to helping others and making a positive impact, no matter how small.
“When you live a life of true humanity, it changes the world,” Elie said.