Throughout our history as a people, the Jewish community has made taking care of those in need a priority. Often that means providing refuge and support for those fleeing persecution in other lands.
In 1934, two brothers, Elias and Ike Broniatowski, ages 10 and 11, were among only 1,000 Jewish children permitted to enter the United States from pre-World War II Nazi Germany. They left their Polish Jewish parents and seven-year-old brother, Sasha, never to see them again, and set sail for America.
Sponsored by Jewish organizations, the brothers stayed with several sets of foster parents, first in Atlanta, then in New Orleans. Their first foster mother decided that the boys needed a simpler last name, so Elias and Ike became Kleins.
Finally, a good match was found for the boys, and they joined the family of Leslie and Lillian Greenwald. The Greenwalds had grown up in the former Jewish Children’s Home of New Orleans, and Lillian, for a few years, had been forced to place her own children there. With that background, they understood the needs of children who had been separated from their parents and nurtured the two boys.
In the early 40’s, the brothers graduated high school, and Elias attended Louisiana State University for three semesters on a scholarship provided by the New Orleans Jewish Federation. Both enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces. Elias was a member of the First Army Division that landed in Normandy on D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
After the war, the brothers returned home and married their high school sweethearts. Ike married Vera Barton in 1943 and Elias married Beverly Aronowitz in 1948.
After working as a traveling salesman, Elias enrolled in Tulane University in 1950 and completed B.S., Masters and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry within four years and then embarked on his career as an industrial and research chemist. For the next 27 years, he held executive positions in laboratory science in New Orleans and Mobile, AL, culminating in 1981 with his appointment as a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville Medical School.
In 1994, in recognition of the care and love that the Klein brothers received from the New Orleans Jewish Community, Elias and Beverly created the Klein/Broniatowski College Assistance Fund for Refugee Children at the Jewish Children’s Regional Service (JCRS). The inspiration to create a fund that would assist in higher education came from Elias’s childhood social worker, Ruth Levy, who secured his LSU scholarship.
In the past 20 years, dozens of Jewish college students from Eastern European and Central and South American families have received financial aid through the fund the Kleins created at JCRS.
The Kleins have three children, Jon (Laura), a Louisville nephrologist, Jerrold, a New York-based financial advisor, and Meryl (Barbara) a gerontology consultant living in Memphis; and two grandchildren, Rachel and Sarah Klein. All of them are involved with and supportive of the JCRS scholarship program.
“Laura and I and Rachel and Sarah have all become involved,” said Jon Klein, “as have my brother, Jerrold, and my sister, Meryl, in contributing to the fund which provides scholarship money for young Jewish adults in need.”
On Saturday evening, March 7, the JCRS will celebrate its 160th anniversary with a special program, The Jewish Roots of Music, at which they will honor the Klein family along with the Goldring family, Malcolm Woldenberg, the Cahn family and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, all of which have provided significant support for the agency.
“A large number from my extended family in New Orleans are attending,” Klein added. “When my father came to this country at the age of 10, Jewish communal organizations helped him at every step along the way, from the time he came as a foster child in 1934 until he was a young adult.
“It makes our family very aware of how important these organizations are, even today,” he stated.
Information about Elias Klein was provided by the Jewish Children’s Regional Service.