Raising a family dedicated to serving others is the legacy one Potomac lawyer hopes will live on in generations to come.
For Michael Lichtenstein, community service is a routine part of his family's life. Growing up in South Africa and later Israel, Liechtenstein says his parents raised him in a generous and giving household, something he's trying to pass on to his daughters today.
The Washingtonian’s top-ranked lawyer cooks food to feed the homeless, works in soup kitchens, co-founded a nonprofit that raised money for children's causes in the area and in September will run his 26th triathlon for the Make A Wish Foundation.
For their 13th birthdays, Lichtenstein asked each of his three daughters to complete a bat mitzvah project that was more hands-on than a typical monetary donation.
"We wanted them to actually go out and do something physical so they’d be involved with people,” Lichtenstein said.
For his youngest, Laynee, what started as a project to meet that request at 13 has turned into a reoccurring tradition of service. Every six weeks Laynee, now 15, and her father cook up a meal for nearly 200 men and serve it at an emergency men's shelter in Rockville.
“We went there -- she, myself and my wife initially -- and we cooked dinner and she baked cookies and we served the men," Lichtenstein said. "She liked it. It was amazing."
After visiting the shelter a few times, Lichtenstein said his daughter wanted to continue with her project. During her visits Laynee had the opportunity to connect with someone she may have never met otherwise -- a former crack addict who granted her a new perspective on life.
The two had an "instant connection," Lichtenstein said. "Every time we'd go there, he would ask 'How's my baby? Make sure you stay in school.' It was great seeing them interact."
"To see all of the guys in their bunks, it makes me thankful for everything I have," Laynee said.
The Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless reccomended Lichtenstein's work last fall, naming him an outstanding volunteer.
"His dedication and hard work bringing regular meals to our [Home Builders Care Assessment Center] men’s emergency shelter is truly appreciated," said Diane Aten, communications director for the coalition. "Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless could not do our work without the 70,000+ meals that are donated each year from outstanding volunteers like Michael."
But finding time out of a busy schedule to give back to the community isn’t an issue for a family that is grateful for everything it has.
“I’ve been happily married for 30 years. I have three great daughters. I’m very happy at work, I’ve had a lot of luck in life in terms of what’s happened to me,” Lichtenstein said. "You walk into a room and there’s 200 men sleeping in one room with all of their possessions on their beds, how can you not help them?
"My view is that there’s no excuse for anybody in this area not to be devoting some time. It balances your life,” he added.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly cited a donation to Children's Inn. We regret the error.