metro >> mentsh of the month
Norm Katz's literacy efforts bring friendship and insight.
Special to the Jewish News
t age 88, Norm Katz believes the
secret of retiring is not to fully
retire. Though the former attor-
ney no longer takes cases, he still stops by
the offices of his Birmingham law firm,
Katz, Victor & Yolles PC, several times a
Retirement has given him the time to
attend classes at local universities, take
in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with
his wife, Anne, and even dabble in some
Several years ago, Katz completed 14
hours of training to volunteer with the
Detroit Jewish Coalition of Literacy, part
of the local Jewish Community Council.
Last January, he was hoping to continue
working with Detroit public school chil-
dren as he did in previous years. Instead,
the organization paired him with a
Christian Syrian immigrant in his late 60s
to teach him fluency in conversational
The two men meet twice a week to
learn and converse in English at the
Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham.
Through these encounters, the man is not
only improving his English, but also forg-
ing a friendship with a Jewish man that
would be impossible back in Syria.
"The other day, my student and I were
talking quietly at a table and a woman
with a headscarf asked if she could join
us:' Katz said. "It turned out she was a
Shiite Muslim from Iran. It sounds like the
beginning of a joke: A Jew, a Syrian and an
Iranian meet to talk in a library ..:'
Because Katz's student still has relatives
living in government-occupied neighbor-
hoods in war-torn Damascus, the Syrian,
Though retired, volunteer Norm Katz still stops by his Birmingham law office.
a trained gastroenterologist, wished not to
be named nor interviewed. However, Katz
said that he and his student have gained
insights about each other's cultures.
"I am learning a lot of what it was like
for my friend to live as an ethnic minor-
ity Christian in Syria and, in turn, he is
learning a lot about Judaism and Israel,"
Katz said his student fled Syria with
his wife in November 2012 after a car
bomb detonated only a block from their
apartment. He and his wife, a gynecolo-
gist, came to Metro Detroit to live with
their sons, who are also doctors, and
Now that Katz has been conversing
with his new Syrian friend, he said he
has seen an improvement in his vocabu-
lary and his ease in holding fluent
conversations in English continues to
In addition to his volunteer work,
Katz said he and Anne enjoy participat-
ing in the many cultural and educational
events Detroit has to offer. The couple
will be married 60 years next June; they
have four children and 11 grandchil-
"Volunteering gives me the satisfac-
tion of accomplishing something," Katz
said. "I've been practicing law since
I was 24 and, when I started slowing
down in my practice, I felt unfulfilled.
Staying active is the way to go for me:'
Micki Grossman of Farmington Hills,
a volunteer coordinator for the coalition,
recalls Katz's charming personality and
how he loved to work with children at
Thurgood Marshall Elementary School
in Detroit. There, he tutored a boy the
same age as his grandson, David Adler,
now a junior at Frankel Jewish Academy
in West Bloomfield. Katz had the boys
write letters to one another. Each week,
Grossman recalls, he would meet the
boy with a letter, which they would read
"Norm made a difference in that boy's
life because each week, for about an
hour, that child knew he was going to
get someone's undivided attention and
caring;' Grossman said. "That will stay
in that child's memory a long time:'
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