A beloved teacher for 38 years, Yossi Katz is a man of few words when it comes to speaking about his contribution to the Jewish National Fund’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel. But those who have come to know the American-born teacher who made aliyah, served in the Israel Defense Forces and was a boxing champion for the country are quick to sing his praises.
“He’s the most humble famous person you will ever meet,” said Alicia Press, director of admissions for AMHSI for the Southeast. “Yossi Katz has spent a lifetime educating teens” about the importance of Israel, she said. “He has touched thousands of lives.”
More than 100 former AMHSI graduates, prospective students, their families and supporters held a reunion and retirement party for Katz Sept. 6 at the home of Emanuel and Stacy Fialkow.
At the event, Katz spoke about a student who died while serving in the IDF, and Ashley Siegal, a University of Georgia senior, shared her memories from five years ago at the Israel high school.
The event also kicked off a fundraising campaign to help teens who want to attend the high school in Israel program.
In addition to the private reunion last week, Katz spoke to the senior class at The Weber School, the Women of Weber, JNF’s Women For Israel and a teen event at the Marcus JCC. He mostly spoke about why it’s important to support Israel and for children to experience Israel through programs such as AMHSI. Both are his passion.
Stopping by the AJT offices, Katz shared what inspired his love of Israel. As a child growing up in Philadelphia, the accent of an Israeli visitor caught his attention. When he asked the visitor where he was from, he learned, “Israel, the Jewish country.” Katz couldn’t understand why, if his family was Jewish, why they didn’t live in “the Jewish country” too.
It took a while for Katz to turn his confusion into a full-blown commitment to Israel.
First, he had to become involved in the Jewish community and develop his leadership skills. His parents set the standard for leadership and education. His father was president of a Conservative synagogue and his mother, president of a Philly parent-teacher organization.
Active in United Synagogue Youth, Katz eventually became regional president. He also worked his way up the leadership ranks of Camp Ramah in the Poconos during his 15 years as camper, counselor and division head.
After he graduated from Temple University, Katz decided to head to Israel. He made aliyah in 1978 and went on to serve in the IDF as a combat soldier in a reconnaissance unit and become a light-middleweight boxing champion for the country. But he takes most pride, lately, in his teaching of children through AMHSI.
Of the fundraising effort in his honor, Katz said, “the more who come to Israel, the better. Israel is the only place you see a Jewish country that runs itself and takes care of itself.” He explained that Israel does for the Jewish people what no other country can do.
Katz’s Israeli girlfriend, Yifat Roitman, said she has never known anyone, even sabras, to be so committed to Israel. “He thinks about Israel all the time. He is an addicted Zionist. He really believes it. It’s not a cliché.” She said she and Katz host students every day at their home, even on weekends. “He has touched so many people’s hearts. I have never seen such a man who affected so many people.”