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Remembering Max Michelson

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Aug 21, 2017

Blog Post

Marc Jacobs, Guest Contributor

Max Michelson, 92, passed away peacefully on August 10, 2017. Michelson and his wife Julia were instrumental in founding Jewish Family Service of Metrowest (Mass.), one of HIAS’ local resettlement partners, where he served as president and on the board for many years. The following blog post is adapted from remarks delivered by current JFS CEO Marc Jacobs at Max’s memorial service at Temple Beth Am on August 13, 2017. 

Max Michelson

(David Michelson)

One year ago, Max Michelson wrote a letter to JFS’ leadership entitled, “A Humanitarian Imperative.”

In it, he proudly encouraged our efforts to lead the Metrowest Jewish community’s resettlement and welcome of Syrian refugees at a time when there was some initial resistance from a number of community leaders.

“As a survivor of the Holocaust, I am particularly sensitive to the issue of refugee relief,” he wrote. “I, for one, am compelled to act, to support this initiative and to invite the broadest possible participation in its implementation.”

I often spoke with Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, of how Max inspired each of us to be better, do better, never make excuses, always move forward. As Barry wrote, Max transformed a story of pain and torment into a commitment to justice, to ending pain and suffering, and to defending the powerless.

He had absolute clarity about what was important, and that clarity was contagious.

Max was mentor, friend, teacher, a guiding light to me and many others in this sanctuary and across Greater Boston.

Max loved his family. His grandchildren Rebecca, Daniel and Anna filled his life with joy and optimism about the future.

Max's granddaughter Anna volunteering with refugee children this summer at JFS.

(Marc Jacobs)

Max was incredibly proud of Anna’s internship at JFS this summer working with Syrian refugee children, and having so much time with Anna this summer made Max very happy.

Simply stated, this is what Max taught me, taught us: Act. Stand up for those powerless, those without a voice.

Max was amazed and delighted at the diversity in languages and backgrounds of the JFS staff, and equally proud of our assistance to the thousands of immigrant and Jewish community members who were left behind as social and economic inequities expanded.

Last September, Max recommended, and the JFS Board approved tapping into agency savings accounts to increase wages of our lowest paid workers, many of them immigrant workers caring for frail elders.

When I visited Max at his Lasell Village nursing unit shortly before he returned to his apartment, he was, with his weakened and shaky voice, cajoling the nurse manager to fight for better wages for the dishwashers at Lasell Village! How wonderfully, Max.

Max taught that the opposite of love was not hate, that it was indifference.

Over the past couple of years, he led the “Black Lives Matter” efforts at Lasell Village and created poignant profiles and stories of the low income immigrant workers with their families. Bringing these people to life led to wage increases for many of these essential, and under-appreciated workers.

How typical of our Max.

Act. Stand up for those powerless, those without a voice.

Max’s values, his sense of purpose and moral clarity are the DNA of Jewish Family Service of Metrowest and will definitely live on.

May his memory be for a blessing and his legacy be a kinder and gentler world, someday.

Marc Jacobs is the CEO of Jewish Family Service of Metrowest, one of HIAS’ local resettlement partners, and the recipient of the 2017 Sharp Rescuer Prize.