Norma Sobel’s giving, fundraising influenced a younger generation

Norma Sobel’s giving, fundraising influenced a younger generation

Norma Kirkell Sobel, a Jewish leader locally and nationally in many capacities, whose active participation touched many organizations, died Tuesday, April 30. She was 73.

“There was a gazillion organizations she was involved in,” said Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh President and CEO Jeffery Finkelstein, “and they weren’t just on her resume. She really got involved, and she wasn’t bashful about asking people to financially support the things she was personally involved with.

“When she was involved with our women’s philanthropy group,” Finkelstein continued, “she certainly gave her time to make phone calls, to get people to come to programs. As they say in poker, she was all in. That’s what I’ll remember.”

In fact, Beth Mann, director of National Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federation of North America, flew to Pittsburgh Friday, May 3, to be at Sobel’s funeral. Sobel served on the board of the NWP.

“She was a role model for women of all ages on the board,” Mann told the Chronicle. “She made it her business to be part of mapping and developing the case for giving. She made it her business to be there, to be engaged and be enthusiastic, to create a meaningful dialogue with people so they would be enthusiastic about supporting the federation community.”

According to Mann, Sobel’s enthusiasm for the work had an enormous impact, as was evident by the messages the JFNA received following her death.

“We collected scores of emails to be sent to her husband about how she took time to speak to young women, share her wisdom about what’s important in life, and how giving back was one of the most important things a woman could do,” Mann said. “That was the core of most of the emails we received. This is a woman who taught us what was important in life, and then showed us.”

Sobel was past president of NA’AMAT Pittsburgh, Jewish National Fund and the Zionist Organization of America, a former vice president of the American Society for Technion, honorary president of Congregation Beth Shalom, a board member of Jewish Women’s Philanthropy of the Federation, a member of the Federation board of directors and its overseas funding committee, a member of the board of Congregation Beth Shalom and a major supporter of its capital campaign.

In the broader community she was president of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera Guild, a board member of 25 Club of Magee Women’s Hospital and a board member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Sobel is survived by her husband, Dr. Michael N. Sobel; children, Dr. J.B. Sobel of Atlanta, and Aaron and Melissa Sobel of Houston; and grandchildren Andrew, Emily, Daniel, Claire and Nathan Sobel.

Her funeral was held in Shadyside, on Friday, and she was buried at the Beth Shalom Cemetery. Donations in her memory may be made to the Federation, to NA’AMAT Pittsburgh or to the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Pittsburgh.

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at

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