Midrash lithograph of five men praying over a book.
Midrash

Right before he retired, my former boss called me into his office. He said he had been thinking about what to leave behind for me and decided that a black-and-white lithograph would stay on the wall.

At the time, I wasn’t that touched by this specific gesture as I was more overwhelmed about everything else regarding moving into Norm Keane’s office and doing his job. Here was a guy who for decades had been leading JFSes around the country and was at the forefront of the entire “movement.” His final 13-year gig blessed Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit, our Jewish community and the entire region.

Norm died a couple of weeks ago. He was a completely vibrant 76-year-old one day and gone the next.

Norm Keane and Perry Ohren
Norm Keane and Perry Ohren

He moved to Detroit for the job at JFS with his wife, Mary Keane, who became the executive director of Hebrew Free Loan. They both retired in fall 2011 and returned to Cleveland to be with their family. Norm continued to do what he did while a professional … helping people. This time, in retirement, without the stresses of budgets and board meetings.

He was completely passionate about his work at the Lakeside Men’s Shelter with returning citizens. This was the same passion he had when he began his career as an outreach worker, reaching out to teenagers in Cleveland who needed some attention to help find their way.

Prior to Detroit, Norm started his career at the Jewish Family Service Association of Cleveland, working his way up to an executive. He then moved to Tucson, where he was a nursing home administrator before he became the executive director of Jewish Children and Family Services — Tucson. His next post was leading the Jewish Family and Community Services of Pittsburgh and then on to Detroit.

Norm helped transform Jewish Family Service in Detroit to a true modern multiservice organization, adding and expanding essential services and moving us into our current Orley Family Building. When talking about JFS’ Project Chessed, one of Norm’s huge accomplishments (which helped thousands get access to health care before the Affordable Care Act), I often reference Norm saying something like, “I never ever thought that a JFS would ever need to be in the business of health care, but no one else was doing it so we just had to.”

Norm was a no-nonsense-feelings-on-his-sleeve kind of guy. While he listened to and respected his colleagues, he also was easy leading and deciding. He was scrappy and old-fashioned while also able to see where the puck was going. He was an Indians fan turned Tigers fan turned Indians fan again. He didn’t like tomatoes and he really liked chocolate chip cookies. He cared deeply. Very deeply.

My condolences go out to Mary Keane; her children, Sam Keane and Rich and Jen Cochran; and grandchildren, Josie, Issy and Sophie. More than anything, Norm loved his family! This is shocking and so sad, and we are all better because Norm was fully with us while he was here doing what he did so well as a friend, a relative and a colleague.

As the days and weeks and months go by, we will, of course, figure out appropriate ways to continue to honor Norm’s memory and legacy.

Personally, I am forever indebted to Norman Robert Keane. From the very first time he grilled me in an interview in 2003 to every next step in our collegial relationship and friendship. Norm hired me and mentored me and did what he could do to help me succeed him.

The lithograph by Charles Bragg is titled Midrash. It’s a bunch of rabbis trying to make sense of what they inherited and how to pass it on to the next generation. I get it now. Thank you, Norm.

Perry Ohren

CEO, Jewish Family Service