Michael Serling: A legacy of support to enhance Jewish life at MSU
From viewing critically acclaimed Israeli films and attending Shabbat meals to study abroad in Israel and interacting with the top minds in Jewish Studies right on campus, MSU students have myriad opportunities to explore Jewish culture.
Alumnus, advocate and benefactor, Attorney Michael Serling is proud to have played a role in enhancing the many resources that impact Jewish Life at Michigan State.
Together with his wife Elaine, Michael recently added significantly to their legacy of support for MSU’s Jewish Studies Program with a $1 million cash commitment to establish the Michael and Elaine Serling Visiting Israeli Scholars Fund. Their support will allow outstanding Israeli faculty in many disciplines to teach and collaborate in research through an extended stay on campus.
“This will allow us to take advantage of the highest level of scholar in Israel and to build long lasting collaborations between these individuals and MSU,” Michael said. “It was a perfect way for us to make a new gift.”
Michael’s Birmingham legal practice specializes in environmental and product liability law with expertise in asbestos disease and asbestos contamination. His clients number more than 300 school districts as well as building owners and individuals from 20 states, Europe, Japan and Israel. He obtained a B.A. (’66) in History along with teaching certification from MSU and his J.D. (’70) from the Detroit College of Law, now the MSU College of Law. In 2004, he was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award and in 2010 he received the Philanthropist Award, both from the MSU Alumni Association.
Elaine and Michael lived in Israel for a year in the early ‘70s where they worked and learned to speak Hebrew fluently. Elaine, an R.N., worked at a plastic surgery clinic at a large Jerusalem hospital while Michael worked in the stocks and bonds department of a major bank. After Israel they came back to Detroit, raised a family and now have two lovely granddaughters.
He credits his time at Michigan State as crucial to his development and success. “I’ve been very blessed in my career and marriage, so much of my blessings are because of the education I received and influences I gained at MSU,” he said.
Giving back to MSU is easy according to Michael. “When I found out there was a Jewish Studies Program underway at MSU back in the ’90s, I was thrilled and wanted to help make it happen,” he said. “To see my alma mater taking the lead in the intellectual advancement of Jewish studies has been very rewarding.”
The Serlings’ passion for MSU’s Jewish Studies Program previously led to creation of an endowed chair in Israel Studies. In addition to the Serlings’ personal gifts to this endowment, another $650,000 was given by the Jewish community. Dr. Yael Aronoff, who was a senior associate at Columbia University’s Institute of War and Peace Studies, joined the MSU faculty in 2006 as the first Michael and Elaine Serling and Friends Israel Studies Chair. She is a 2011 recipient of MSU’s Teacher-Scholar Award and is finishing a book titled When Hard-Liners Opt for Peace: The Political Psychology of Israeli Prime Ministers.
“Dr. Aronoff is a living, breathing contribution to teaching about the modern state of Israel,” Michael said. “She is an excellent addition to MSU’s faculty.”
The Serlings also created a fund for Israel-related programming on campus, including an annual Serling Lecture on Modern Israel and the Israeli Film Festival.
In addition, Michael has been steadfast in volunteering his time and expertise to benefit MSU. He has served as chairperson of the advisory board for MSU’s Jewish Studies Program, and is a member of MSU Hillel Jewish Student Center’s advisory board and also served the President’s Cabinet for The Campaign for MSU. He was instrumental in securing author and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel as MSU’s Commencement Speaker in 1999.
Due to his ongoing MSU connection, Michael has witnessed firsthand the impact of the programs he supports. “There has been a renaissance of Jewish life at MSU,” he said. “MSU provides an enriching and welcoming opportunity for Jewish and non- Jewish students to learn about Jewish history, culture, religion and about the State of Israel.”