After 25 years, Haina Just-Michael and her husband Bernie have moved from New Rochelle to the Upper East Side. Individually and as a couple, they made a huge impact on both the local Jewish community and the larger Westchester community. They are seen by many community leaders and members as role models in that, through their actions, they have taught the importance of getting involved in all levels of one’s community.
“Haina and Bernie have been among New Rochelle’s most active, beloved and admired residents. They leave behind a legacy of remarkable good works and have been instrumental in strengthening the economic, social, civic and spiritual life of our city. Fortunately, they are not going far, and, like many of their former neighbors, I look forward to maintaining our friendship,” expressed New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson.
Westchester County Executive George Latimer noted, “Haina has made a significant contribution to New Rochelle and Westchester County. Her energy, vision and intelligence are unmatched. She will be a great asset to her new hometown.”
“My folks were simple people,” explained Bernie Michael, “yet, they taught me that one must take care of more than the individual family and extended Jewish community.” He continued, “It is crucial to know we are all part of a larger sphere as well.”
Bernie’s parents, both Holocaust survivors, owned a candy store near Yankee Stadium and the Bronx County Courthouse. Many of their customers were local politicians. Through these connections, his mother met with the late U.S. Senator Jacob Javits (R-NY), who was instrumental in helping Bernie’s aunt, uncle and cousins leave Poland. “My parents showed me you needed to be part of the greater American community.”
In addition to his career in law and real estate, Bernie served as chairman of the New Rochelle Industrial Development Agency, he was a local Democratic district leader, president of the American Jewish Historical Society, and former president and board member of the Young Israel of New Rochelle.
“My sister and I were brought up with a lot of Jewish pride and pride in America. My folks had us listening to record LPs of JFK speeches,” recalled Haina Just-Michael. “The neighborhood was fraught with politicians who served NYC in many capacities and inspired all of us to be civic-minded beyond our shuls. So, clearly, when we moved to New Rochelle, we did not get involved just with a synagogue but with our community.”
Haina reminiscences that “the first real ‘playdate’ for my kids was at the library story time.” Since Haina had experience in the not-for-profit public relations world, she quickly put her skills to work to enhance the New Rochelle Public Library (NRPL). “I helped create the NRPL Foundation in 1992. And years later when there was an opening on the board of trustees, I was asked to run for that public office and won. I remained on that board till I had to resign, as I was moving out of New Rochelle.”
In addition, Haina’s community involvement included the League of Women Voters, Hope Community Services, Oasis Homeless Shelter, Boys and Girls Club, and New Rochelle Cares-Aging in Place. She recalls that frequently, and many times exclusively, she was the only Orthodox Jewish person involved. “I took pride in that as I was representing a new element to these organizations,” stated Haina. Haina was instrumental in making sure meetings were not scheduled on Jewish holidays.
“As I did and do all these things I have always had it in my head that I served as a representative of the Jewish people as I help my diverse city of New Rochelle,” said Haina. “My dad used to listen to my stories from my public relations work and then my stories with my work with New Rochelle and he described it as being an ambassador. He was right: we are all always representing our people. We should be proud and aware of our actions.”
“Whether living permanently or temporarily in any location, the best one can hope to do is leave deep impactful footprints. That is what Haina and her family will do when they leave New Rochelle and Westchester. From their civic engagement, to social action, to political involvement all rooted in faith and commitment, their impact will be long-lasting,” stated Alisa Kesten, executive director of Volunteer New York.
Mark Semer praised his predecessor as president of YINR: “It’s hard to express what we are all losing with Haina and Bernie’s departure to Manhattan. As individuals and as a couple they have made a tremendous and unparalleled impact on YINR, the greater Jewish community and the New Rochelle community. We will miss their wisdom, enthusiasm, great humor and friendship, but thankfully they aren’t going far.”
By Judy Berger