Selma Green Katz, 97, activist, patron of arts

Selma Katz
Selma Katz
Posted: October 13, 2012

Selma Green Katz, 97, of Bala Cynwyd, a supporter of Jewish causes and a patron of the arts, died Thursday, Oct. 11, at home.

A native of New York City, Mrs. Katz earned a bachelor's degree in education from New York University, where she met her future husband, Lawrence Katz. They married in 1936.

When Mrs. Katz was a young married woman, Sabbath dinners at her father's home in Manhattan exposed her to Zionism through introductions to David Ben Gurion, Chaim Weizman, and Golda Meir. That was the impetus that directed her lifelong involvement in charitable endeavors, her family said.

When Meir pursued the development and sale of State of Israel Bonds in 1951, Mrs. Katz headed the sales in Queens, N.Y.

In 1955, she and her husband moved to Melrose Park, where Mrs. Katz continued her Zionist activism and her involvement with Hadassah, the Jewish National Fund, American Friends of Technion, and Israel Bonds.

She served on the board of the Women's Division of Israel Bonds and was a member of its Prime Minister's Club for 25 years. She was also a charter member of the Golda Meir Club.

She and her husband hosted Eleanor Roosevelt at a 1960 Israel Bonds event in their home.

In 1966, Mrs. Katz started the Israel Bonds Women's Division Home and Art Tour, visiting prominent art collections in the Mid-Atlantic region. She chaired the event for 40 years.

Lawrence Katz founded Fidelity Machine Co. in 1948. The company manufactured machinery for the hosiery and knitting industry and invented machinery to produce seamless stockings.

After selling Fidelity Machine in the 1960s, he owned MacAndrews & Forbes, a manufacturer of candy, flavorings, pharmaceuticals, and tobacco products. Through MacAndrews & Forbes, he had business dealings with Iran, and he and his wife were often guests at the shah's palace in Tehran.

The couple's circle of friends included Henry Kissinger, members of the Rothschild banking family, artist Marc Chagall, and sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, who was a guest in their home.

Mrs. Katz was a patron of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Friends of Artist Equity, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1985, she donated to the academy a sculpture of three bronze peacocks by Gaston Lachaise.

She was president of the Mann Music Center Guild for 25 years and served on the boards of numerous charitable organizations, and she and her husband cochaired several benefit galas. She continued her philanthropic activities after he died in 1983 and was still attending benefit functions into her mid-1980s, her daughter, Terry, said.

Mrs. Katz was sought out as a board member because she was "extremely kind and generous and never gossiped about anyone," her daughter said.

"She had class and an incredible sense of style," Terry Katz said, "People valued her."

Mrs. Katz was an avid gardener, her family said. She was an exhibiting member of the Old York Road Garden Club at the Philadelphia Flower Show and won blue ribbons for her jade plants.

Her other loves were playing gin rummy and traveling the world - hot-air ballooning in France, whitewater glacier rafting in Alaska, and many other adventures.

As hostess extraordinaire, her family said, she was known for her Rosh Hashanah lunches, Yom Kippur break-the-fast evenings, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah with gift boxes of Stutz's chocolate marshmallows, Chinese New Year parties at Susanna Foo, and Passover seders with her homemade gefilte fish and matzo balls.

Mrs. Katz was honored by Hadassah, Jewish National Fund, Israel Bonds, American Cancer Society, and Technion Society.

She was a member of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park and Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley. The Lawrence and Selma Katz Chapel at Gratz College was dedicated in memory of Lawrence Katz and in honor of Selma Katz on her 75th birthday.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Katz is survived by sons Harry Jay and Philip; seven grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, at Joseph Levine & Son, 4737 Street Rd., Trevose. Burial will be in Roosevelt Memorial Park, Trevose.

Donations may be made to the Jewish National Fund, Sapphire Society, 42 E. 69th St., New York, N.Y. 10021.


Contact Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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