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Michael and Elaine Serling
Michael and Elaine Serling

Jewish Champions

Serlings to be honored at HMC’s 34th Anniversary Dinner

Stacy Gittleman Contributing Writer

In the Birmingham law office he founded in 1972, Michael Serling drinks his coffee from a mug bearing the Spartan logo of Michigan State University. His wife, Elaine, a retired nurse and an award-winning singer and Jewish songwriter, says she is loyal through marriage to the green and the white, though she received her nursing degree from Wayne State University’s School of Nursing.

Proudly displayed in Michael’s office are framed wedding photos of the Orchard Lake couple’s daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. Interspersed are photos of the couple posing with giants in the local and international Jewish community: Max Fisher. Natan Sharansky. And Elie Wiesel standing before the statue of Sparty.

“This shot was taken back in 1999, when I worked with MSU in bringing Wiesel to give that year’s convocation address,” said Serling, who received his bachelor’s degree in history and teaching certification from MSU in 1966 and his law degree in 1970 from the Detroit College of Law, now the MSU College of Law. “Back in the 1990s, Wiesel gave us much advice on how to strengthen Jewish and Holocaust education at MSU.”

The Serlings will be honored Sunday, Nov. 11, at the 34th Anniversary Dinner of the Holocaust Memorial Center (HMC) at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. Guest speaker George Takei will deliver a speech on his imprisonment in a Japanese American internment camp during World War II. Takei is well known for his role as Lt. Sulu on Star Trek as well as being a vocal community activist and supporter of human rights.

“We are pleased to honor Elaine and Michael Serling,” said HMC CEO Eli Mayerfeld. “We are fortunate to have supporters like the Serlings who ardently believe in the importance of Holocaust education. They are caring community leaders who are very active in the Jewish community and have made a meaningful impact through their shared commitment to Holocaust education.”

The Serlings have a legacy of enriching Jewish life at MSU — most recently with their multimillion-dollar gift to the now-named Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel. And they say it is their life’s mission to support Jewish continuity and foster a “greater connectivity with the State of Israel.”

“Our gift places the emphasis on partnering with Israeli universities, scholars and start-ups to utilize the advances coming out in an array of disciplines,” Elaine said. “We need to make sure younger people understand Israel is not a warhorse but a tiny country that, in spite of its size and geographical location in one of the most dangerous places on the globe, continues to be on the cutting edge of technology and progress.”

Previous gifts from the Serlings helped make MSU the sixth university in the country to establish an endowed chair in Israel studies, created in 2005.

Serling, who specializes in asbestos litigation and environmental law, is chair of the MSU Jewish studies program advisory board. He was vice president of the Michigan Anti-Defamation League and still serves on its executive committee. Using his knowledge as a former Detroit school teacher, he created and led the ADL Dream Dialogue Program, a multi-ethnic teen dialogue group. Michael and Elaine also are trustees at Beaumont Hospital.

Elaine has been a Jewish music educator for nearly four decades, having taught at Adat Shalom, Birmingham Temple, B’nai Moshe and Temple Emanu-El. She started performing in her early teens at state fairs, charity events, weddings, local TV programs and for Michigan’s USO chapter. She volunteers at the Farber Soul Center and is a member of Adat Shalom’s Sisterhood and Hadassah. Both are active in StandWithUs and AIPAC, where Michael serves as a Michigan council member.

LOVE OF ISRAEL

The Serlings have traveled to Israel a dozen times. One of their longest stays was in the early 1970s when they lived in Jerusalem for a year shortly after marrying. They enrolled in ulpan (Hebrew immersion course) and were quickly part of a rapidly changing Israeli culture in the years following the 1967 Six Day War.

Michael worked at Bank Leumi, assisting new immigrants with financial matters. Elaine worked as a nurse at Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

When they returned to the U.S., Michael advised attorneys handling asbestos cases in Israel. Elaine’s year in Israel inspired a second career writing Jewish songs that touch upon Jewish holidays and customs, a love of Israel and, when she became a grandmother, the importance of passing Jewish continuity from one generation to the next.

The Serlings’ generosity also will allow new generations of MSU students to explore their professional aspirations by studying in Israel.

“No matter what professional segment they enter, a trip to Israel through MSU will change their lives,” Michael said. “It gives them respect for where the Jewish people have been and where we are going. For non-Jewish students who travel to Israel, they gain a perspective of how Israel is thriving as a democratic state.”

The Serlings believe the college years may be the last chance for Jewish youth to strengthen their Jewish identities. It is the antidote, they say, to the increase in anti-Semitism emerging in American society, especially on campuses, where the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement was founded.

“What is happening in Michigan [with BDS] is happening all over the country,” Michael said. “Yes, BDS demonstrations on campus will continue, but if you are confident and strong, then a strong Jewish presence on campus will continue to build and thrive.”

For further information, call (248) 553-2400.

Stacy Gittleman

Stacy Gittleman is an award-winning journalist and has been a contributing writer for the Detroit Jewish News for the last five years. Prior to moving to Metro Detroit in 2013, she was a columnist and feature writer for Gannett's Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, NY. She also manages social media pages for other local non-profit organizations including the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Contact her with breaking news and feature story ideas that impact Detroit's Jewish community at stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com

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