Meet Idit Klein ’94, a leader for social justice and President & CEO of Keshet, a national organization that advances LGBTQ+ equality in all facets of Jewish life

In this LGBTQ+ Pride Month Alumni Identity Spotlight, Klein shares her personal account of stepping up to the mic on Cross Campus during National Coming Out Day and reminds fellow Yalies of the power of meaningful connection. 

This feature is part of a series focused on amplifying the voices of alumni who are making an impact today and illuminating how the identities we bring to Yale transform both our community and the world. 

What is your most enduring memory of your time at Yale?

Of course, it is so hard to pick just one! But a moment that stands out for me most vividly is on National Coming Out Day in October 1993. I had been coming out gradually to people close to me for over a year, but that day, I decided, I needed to step up to the mic – literally – and declare my identity, with pride, to the world (or whoever happened to be walking by Cross Campus at that particular moment).

I distinctly remember standing among the 100 or so people who had congregated to hear people's coming out stories and declarations. I stood with the crowd for a few minutes, starting at the mic and the small trail of people behind it waiting to take their turn. And then I stepped out of the crowd and into the line behind the mic. In the years that followed, I would face virulent homophobia in my first years out of college in Israel and then in many parts of the U.S. over the past 25 years. And yet, the sense of raw, wholly exposed vulnerability I felt at that moment of stepping into the line represents the most potent moment of fear I have ever faced. It also was deeply, deeply thrilling. And when I took the mic and told the crowd assembled there that I am bisexual, I floated through the air on their cheers and applause.

How has your identity shaped your Yale experience?

Identity was core to my Yale experience. I hit Old Campus eager to learn what hadn't been available to me in high school, so my first-semester syllabus included women's history and African American literature courses. I also got involved in Jewish life on campus right away, finding a home in Yale Hillel which in those years offered an impressively vibrant array of offerings out of the basement of Bingham Hall.

When I came out in the fall of 1993, immediately after speaking publicly at National Coming Out Day, it was important to me to share the message with the Jewish community that was my primary home at Yale. I will always remember asking for time to share a few words at a Hillel executive committee meeting. My voice trembled a bit as I talked about how I was the only out person in the Yale Jewish community, how I didn't feel comfortable holding my girlfriend's hand at Shabbat dinners, and how of course I was not the only LGBTQ+ Jew at Yale, so what were we going to do to change that? The majority of Jewish leaders on campus at the time were entirely supportive of me, including the Hillel rabbis, but there was a vocal minority of undergrads who saw things differently. They urged for me to be asked to resign from my various leadership positions. Thankfully, that didn't even come close to happening, and I did not remain the only out queer Jew for long.

No one encouraged me at the time to become a professional queer Jew, but in retrospect, it was that experience of coming out alone and then my activism bringing queer and Jewish communities together at Yale, that laid the seeds for the work I do today.

What is your hope for the future of the Yale alumni community?

My hope for the Yale alumni community is that we continue to find ways to support and connect with one another meaningfully. There is such extraordinary power in this community.

What advice would you give to fellow or future Yalies? 

Drink from the fountain that is Yale with abandon! You are entering a community with powerful exuberance, vision, and imagination. Jettison what you think you should do and get clear about what you want to do, and then go for it.

Idit is a national leader for social justice with more than 25 years of experience in the non-profit sector. Since 2001, she has served as the leader of Keshet, the national organization for LGBTQ+ equality in Jewish life. Idit built Keshet from a local organization with an annual budget of $42,000 to a national organization with a five-million-dollar budget and offices in six states. Under her leadership, Keshet has supported tens of thousands of rabbis, educators, and other Jewish leaders to make LGBTQ+ equality a communal value and moral imperative. Idit also spearheaded the creation of leadership development programs for queer Jewish teens and mobilized Jewish communities nationwide to join the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. In addition, she served as the executive producer of Keshet’s documentary film, “Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School.”

Prior to leading Keshet, Idit was a leader in the LGBTQ+ community in Israel and helped envision the Jerusalem Open House. A magna cum laude graduate of Yale University, Idit earned her Master’s in Education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a focus on social justice education. She serves on the boards of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable and the Safety Respect Equity Network. Idit publishes frequently in the Jewish and LGBTQ+ press and has been honored by Jewish Women International, the Jewish Women’s Archive, Mayyim Hayyim, Brandeis University’s Hornstein Program in Jewish Professional Leadership, and the Forward as one of its ‘Forward 50,’ a list of American Jews who have made enduring contributions to public life. She lives in Boston with her family.

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