Charles Schwartz, of blessed memory, was a challenging man. On first impression the words many people chose to describe him were often couched in cautious criticism. Reserved. Opinionated. Controlled. Condescending. But if you were part of his circle, or had the opportunity to know him for a long period of time, and thus were able to peel back the layers, you knew that first impression was entirely misleading.
Charles held himself in check because he was, by nature, one of the most rational men I ever met. If something didn’t make sense, he spotted it. If he presented an idea, it was because he’d thought it out, looked at it from all sides, and believed, wholeheartedly, that it was the right idea. He ran both his business and his life that way, and he was successful in both. If you really knew him you had no choice but to admire his intelligence, his dry wit, his passion for Judaism and our Jewish community and Israel. And those of us who were lucky enough to really know him loved him.
My parents had been Charles’ friends for years, almost since the first day he came to Orlando. And over the years, both through business and family, I think I can say I became a friend, and then finally, thanks to my cousin and his wife Roz Fuchs, an honorary family member as well. Let me tell you a few stories, so you’ll see Charles a little bit more like I did.
Charles was deeply concerned about the well-being of me and my family during the economic downturn of 2006-2009. He knew the real estate business far better than I, and understood the dire straits we were in as deal after deal collapsed. He would call me into his office or take me out to lunch on a regular basis to mentor me and find out how I was doing. And he had an idea that he decided was perfect for me. He had it all figured out. He thought I should become the preeminent residential lot salesman in Central Florida. He was convinced I could be the best, bar none. It would take awhile, he told me—long hours and three to five years of hard work making very little, but then I could position myself to make a good living the rest of my life.
And he was right on all counts. But it wasn’t right for me. He disagreed, of course, but he was never dismissive. And when the opportunity arose, he gave me a chance to rebuild in other ways that fit me better, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
When my mother was honored by Israel Bonds the year before her death, Charles called me and told me not to worry about buying a bond. He didn’t want me to over commit, and told me he and Roz and my wife Pat and I would all have our names on the bond he purchased.
At his wedding to Roz, Charles was a shpritzing mess. I’ve never seen a man contain his emotions so intensely and express them by sweating so profusely. When he greeted me and planted a kiss on my cheek at Shabbat or any family dinner or holiday celebration, it was fleeting but totally sincere. When he engaged my wife in conversation, his attention never wavered. He was open, forthright, genuinely engaged. And though he never thought I’d get rich writing, he never pooh-poohed my personal passion or advised me to quit pursuing my dreams.
When Charles asked me to pitch in and help, I did without a second thought. We worked together to raise money for Birthright Israel, because, while we both believed in it, Charles had the drive and desire to do something to help. And when he asked me to serve on a small committee to try to figure out a way to help the Maitland Jewish community campus shore up its bleak financial picture, I jumped in, not because I wanted to, but because he wanted me to.
That effort fell apart just a few months before Charles passed away, not from lack of effort on Charles’ part, but due to the intransigence and inherent fear of change in several of our major community agencies. Thanks to the hard work of Michael Soll, Ryan Lefkowitz, and a few others, it appears that a plan is in place that will potentially reduce the debt on the campus by several million dollars.
But that’s not enough.
And that’s where you come in.
And that’s the gauntlet I’m throwing down to a select group of people in this Jewish community. You know who you are. In honor of Charles. In acknowledgement of his commitment and passion and efforts to make our community whole, I’m challenging you—the machers, the big donors, the ones with real influence—to get together and figure out a way to retire the remaining debt on the Maitland campus. I’m not saying you should be the only ones to pony up. I am saying you have the ability to tell the agencies, like the wayward children they often act like, what they’re going to do and how it’s going to be done. Set limits. Insist on no more borrowing against the community’s assets. Make it a condition that nothing gets built unless it’s paid for up front. But get it done. You can. And if you do I guarantee that Charles will be beaming as he looks down from above with a wholly unreserved, uncontrolled smile.
And that’s the good word.
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