Selma Katz, who helped support and run numerous charitable, educational and cultural endeavors, especially those involving Jewish causes and Israel, died Thursday. She was 97.
A native New Yorker, she lived in Bala Cynwyd. She previously lived in Melrose Park and in Flushing, N.Y.
Selma was such a force in the charitable and cultural worlds of her adopted city that she wasn't overshadowed by the notoriety of her son, renowned playboy and bon vivant Harry Jay Katz, whose profligate ways are now presumably behind him.
"Mom was unbelievable," he said. "She was beautiful. She was bright. She did it all.
"She was in charge of a million charities. She gave millions to charities. She was amazing. She was the wind behind my wings. Whenever I got in a jam, Mom was there."
"A million charities" might be an exaggeration by a devoted son, but the list of her causes is staggering. It seemed that when many of the city's charitable and cultural entities needed guidance, they turned to Selma Katz.
Over the years, she met Israeli leaders David Ben Gurion, Chaim Weizmann and Golda Meir. She and her late husband, Lawrence, entertained Eleanor Roosevelt in their home during an Israeli bonds event in 1960. They hosted former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at an Albert Einstein Medical Center Harvest Ball in 1964.
Born and raised in New York City, Selma graduated from New York Univeristy with a bachelor's degree in education. During World War II, she taught in New York schools.
She was a world traveler and went hot-air ballooning in France and white-water glacier rafting in Alaska. Another favorite pastime was gardening. She won blue ribbons at the Philadelphia Flower Show for her jade plants.
On her 75th birthday, the Lawrence and Selma Katz Chapel was dedicated at Gratz College.
Selma became interested in Zionism, the movement to establish a Jewish state in Israel, as a young woman. In 1951, while living in Flushing, Selma spearheaded the sale of Israel bonds in Queens not long after Israeli premier Golda Meir started the campaign.
She served on the boards of the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Sciences, now Philadelphia University, and the Elder Craftsmen and Women's Division of the American Cancer Society. She and her husband co-chaired the opening of the Weiss Institute of the Philadelphia Geriatric Center, now the Abramson Center for Jewish Life.
Her patronage of the local art scene included active memberships in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Friends of Artist Equity and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
She was president of the Mann Music Center Guild for 25 years and was chairwoman of the party at Memorial Hall in 1976, when the Mann moved to its new location.
Selma once said of the many organizations with which she worked: "I can't say which one is closest to my heart. Every one of these organizations has a little niche in my heart."
Her husband, a prominent businessman, industrialist and consultant to presidential commissions on trade relations, died in 1983 at age 70. He founded Fidelity Machine Co., which invented machinery that made posssible the production of seamless stockings and pantyhose.
Selma was legendary for her holiday hospitality. She would send for smoked fish from Murray's Sturgeon House in New York for Rosh Hashanah. There were Chinese New Year parties at Susanna Foo's restaurant and Passover seders featuring her own gefilte fish and matzo balls.
Her gift boxes of Stutz's chocolate marshmallows were treasured by friends.
Selma was a longtime member of Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park.
Besides her son, Harry Jay, she is survived by a daughter, Terry Katz; another son, Philip Isaiah Katz; seven grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
Services: 11 a.m. Sunday at Joseph Levine & Son funeral home, 4737 Street Road, Trevose. Interment will be in Roosevelt Memorial Park.
Donations may be made to the Jewish National Fund's Sapphire Society, 42 E. 69th St., New York, NY 10021.
Contact John F. Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-5573