New mom who inspired outpouring of community support dies of cancer

Lisa Klein with her baby, Annie

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Lisa Klein, the University City woman whose sudden diagnosis of terminal cancer brought a flood of support from the Jewish community in recent weeks, has passed away less than two months after her condition was first discovered.

“Thank you for your outpouring of love for our dear Lisa,” read an Oct. 20 post noting her death that afternoon on the family’s blog. “The world is a little less bright without her.”

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Klein, a new mother who discovered her abdomen was ravaged by cancer during exploratory surgery in early September, was rendered unable to consume food while the aggressive nature of the disease left no options for treatment. Her story attracted citywide attention after being publicized by friends, family and the rabbinic staff of Shaare Zedek. A website was set up for donations to help her surviving family, husband Thomas, a St. Louis University law student and daughter Annie who was born three months premature in May. A walkathon was also quickly scheduled by a student at Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School Oct. 12.

Services were held at Shaare Zedek Synagogue late last week.

“It was beautiful and Lisa was adamant that her funeral be a celebration of her life,” said Joanna Dulkin, Shaare Zedek’s hazzan who helped officiate the ceremony. “It was an incredibly sad occasion but I would say it was beautifully balanced between being sad and celebrating her life.”

Dulkin found herself as the unofficial point person for directing help to the family. She said that after the Jewish Light profile and the Mirowitz event, donations increased and the initiative has now collected about $20,000. The walkathon itself, organized by seventh-grade student Andrew Hanin, collected nearly $6,000.

“We’re still working on compiling the statistics,” Dulkin said of the ongoing effort. “There have been cards and money from all over the world.”

Dulkin said the fundraising effort continues and potential ideas under consideration could eventually include a scholarship fund for Annie, possibly supported by a major community event of some sort but those plans are still in the discussion stage.

Donors have so far been helping with ordinary expenses such as gas and food along with long-term funds for Annie. Before her death, Lisa Klein expressed hope that the girl could have a Jewish day school education as well as have the chance to travel to Sweden, her mother’s homeland.

“The website is going to continue,” said Dulkin. “We’re encouraging people to post their videos, their memories, their messages to Thomas and to Annie in memory of Lisa. They’re hoping to keep this site up for a long time and for this to become a compilation of memories and photos.”

Thomas Klein could not be immediately reached for comment and Dulkin said he was in Kansas City for shiva. She said that at the funeral he talked of his appreciation to the community for all the help it’s given.

“It’s our job as a community now to take care of them,” she said. “Thomas, I know, is anxious to express his deep thanks and gratitude for this outpouring of support.”

Lisa Klein was buried at B’nai Amoona Cemetery. Dulkin said Klein selected the final resting place herself.

“When you are standing at her gravesite, when all the leaves fall off the trees, you’ll be able to see her house,” Dulkin said.

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