Active in the Jewish and general communities of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and a strong advocate for Israel, Katherine Michel was involved in the founding of the former American College in Jerusalem, a school where Arabs and Jews studied together.
"My mother and brother, Jeremiah, were returning from a visit to the school aboard a TWA flight in 1974," said Michel. "Everyone on board was killed by a terrorist's bomb."
Because of that, he "distanced himself from Israel, and never went there again until 1998 on a UJC Young Men's Cabinet Solidarity Mission," said the immediate past chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's Renaissance Group. "Since then, I've been there 10 times."
Orphaned at 13 – his father died when he was 10 – Michel went to boarding and military schools through high school. He earned a bachelor's degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; and met his wife Margo there. The couple moved to Philadelphia in 1983.
Michel said he became actively involved in Federation in the late 1990s after Rob Meyer, then director of campaign operations, and Mark Felgoise, a friend and a member of Federation's Young Men's Cabinet, "did some outreach and laid out to me exactly what Federation does. It was the right time in my life, and it grabbed me."
Michel went on to be a member of Men's Cabinet, as well as held many positions in the Renaissance Group. He is a recipient of a Federation 2002 Young Leadership Award and a member of Renaissance's Ben-Gurion Society, part of a national recognition society for young leaders who make a gift of $1,000 or more to their Federation's annual campaign. A member of Federation's Board of Trustees, he served on its Strategic Philanthropy committee and is now on the Israel Missions Task Force.
Along with becoming a young leader, Michel totally changed his feelings toward Israel: "When I went on that first mission, 24 years of anger disappeared. I am passionate about Israel again, and pass that along to my kids, Laura, 15, and Kate, 14. Laura went with me on a UJC family mission three years ago.
"Israel is a necessity," he continued. "We must give it our support for the sake of Jews everywhere."
On a personal level, Michel said that supporting Jews worldwide defines us: "It is a vital part of Jewish identity to make a difference – to make people's lives more livable."
Michel has also taken his energy into the local arena, as Jewish day schools have become one of his passions and priorities.
"I didn't realize how important they are until Laura was in eighth grade, and wanted to look at alternatives to the private school she was attending. She chose Akiba Hebrew Academy and loves it. As parents, we know our daughter is getting the very best secular and Jewish education."
And what about his daughters' future?
"My wife and I want them to be menshen – to have a sense of financial obligation to the Jewish community and to give their time."