Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Christine DeSouza
News Editor 

Ina Porth is a woman of choice


Burg Photographix

Ina Porth

The theme of this year's 2015 Choices event is "It Takes A Woman," and this year's recipient of the Harriet Ginsburg Woman of Choice award, Ina Porth, has proven throughout the years that she is a woman who can get things done.

Who is a Woman of Choice? The Mishna teaches that it is imperative not to be separate from the community. A Woman of Choice is connected to the Jewish community and is committed to Jewish life. She exhibits leadership qualities and is a committed volunteer with the annual campaigns, Jewish organizations, giving financially to keep the community vital, and supportive of Israel and Jewish communities around the world.

Ina Porth exemplifies these qualities. In her words, she does "Jewish stuff" all the time. "From the time I get up and brush my teeth, I'm doing 'Jewish' stuff,'" she told the Heritage.

Porth has always been a "behind the scenes" person. She doesn't like attention drawn to herself-she said that's way above her comfort level, and if Mardi Shader hadn't been the one who told her that she was chosen for the award this year, she probably would have graciously declined.

"I couldn't say no to her. I've called Mardi so many times to do things and she has never said no. Never. How could I say no?"

She also thought the award came with a parking space at the JCC. She had seen a parking space reserved for Choices in the JCC parking lot, and thought that would be for the Woman of Choice recipient. Parking spaces are hard to come by at the JCC and Porth is there many days of the week. But she discovered that space is to be raffled off. "I'd have to buy a thousand raffle tickets!" she said with a laugh.

Seriously though, Porth takes being Jewish and being involved in the Jewish community to heart. "Being Jewish fills me up. I'm blessed to be a Jewish woman," she said with happiness and pride.

Porth is committed to Israel. Her grandmother and mother were always raising money for the Jews in "Palestine." She remembers the JNF Blue Boxes sitting in their windowsills. When the 6-Day War unfold in Israel, televised before the world, she was glued to the TV and knew she had to go to Israel. It was 1967 and she was 20 years old. Her parents found a way to send her through a UJA program and she lived in Israel for six months. First in a moshav in the Galilee where she helped clear land and then she picked bananas, oranges and cotton and worked in a kitchen and laundry at Sdot Yam Kibbutz on the coast near Haifa. It had been home to Hannah Senesh, the woman who went behind enemy lines in World War II and rescued many Jews before being captured and executed. She loved her stay in Israel. "I met many people committed to Israel, both Jewish and non-Jewish."

Everywhere she has gone, she has felt a connection to strong Jewish women. Shortly after the Porths married, they moved to Silver Springs, Md., and Ina joined Hadassah. "I was always looking for the Jewish connection." It was here that Porth first discovered-after reading a book by Sally Priesand, the first female Reform rabbi-that women can become rabbis. It was an eye opener for her.

She is committed to community. When the Porths came to Central Florida in 1978, she told her husband, Eli, that if there was no Jewish community in Orlando, this place was not for them.

The first day they were here, they rented a car and drove to the JCC pre-school and met Judy Toll, then pre-school director. They registered their 3-year-old son immediately, and Porth got involved in volunteer work at the school. She co-chaired with Joannie Kimball a rummage sale for the school. "We were raising money to put carpeting in one of the little 'shacks.' It had dirty old shag carpet. Abe Wise loaned us one of his pickup trucks to use and we drove around and picked up items for the sale."

That was the first of many fundraisers Porth chaired. Over the years, Porth has served on the JCC board (twice), the Jewish Community Relations Council, Women's Division and Congregation Ohev Shalom Sisterhood. "It's like my whole life was 'Jew work'!"

While on the JCC board, Porth chaired the Southern Jewish History month at the JCC. It was a month-long series of programs much like this year's JCRC's Bagels and Grits, a celebration that she organized of the work between the Jewish and black communities for racial justice.

Equal to her passion for Israel and the Jewish community is Soviet Jewry.

Porth attended her first rally while she was in college. It was held at Stern Grove in California. Even though her family came from Russia, it was the first time she heard about the plight of Soviet Jews and life in Russia.

In the 1980s she chaired Human Rights Day with the Federation, and worked with Eva Ritt to bring in speakers from Russia and Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame), who was a staunch supporter of the Soviet Jews. Sometimes opportunities just fell in Porth's lap. While working in Eli's office, she came across a magazine article about the plight of the Soviet Jews by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who had recently returned from the Soviet Union. A short time later, her daughter's Park Maitland class took a field trip to Washington, D.C., and Porth slipped away from the group to meet the senator to discuss the Soviet Jewry concerns.

In 1988, Porth was one of 70 people from Orlando who participated in a rally for Soviet Jewry in Washington, D.C. Locally, she was a COS volunteer who helped settle Soviet Jews who came to Orlando.

Porth is committed to Jewish futures. When she got involved in Federation work, she asked her father what she should give to the annual campaign. He told her what he gave and she was stunned. "My father, I knew, didn't have much but he gave a lot," she said. He was her inspiration.

Her other inspiration, her mentor in fact, was Hy Lake, z"l. "I'd drive out to his office and just sit and talk with him for hours," she said. "He grew up poor and was able to make changes in his life. Not everyone has that capability, so he felt he needed to help, so he did."

Chaired by Gloria Goodman, z"l, the Women's Division was originally founded in the 1960s for women to give their own gifts to the campaign. Then it was re-absorbed into the general campaign until 1986. Porth chaired this return with big buttons made that said "We're Back!" Their first speaker was Dr. Ruth Westheimer and the next year Phil Donahue.

Today, she said, the really big question she hears is what does Federation do?

"We no longer raise all the money to distribute to all of our agencies. The campaign is half of what it used to raise. We lost the major givers – Hy, the Wises, Bill Goodman... But we have to try to raise up Jews," she said.

"Federation stands for unifying community," she continued with firm conviction. "When we have a crisis, when we need to come together, who can do that?

"If we got rid of the Federation, they'd have to create something else. What about all the unaffiliated Jews who don't go to the JCC pre-school, who don't belong to a synagogue?" she asked.

"We have PJ Library that sends books to all of these homes," she said in answer to her own question, and then told Heritage about a recent trip to visit her granddaughter in Massachusetts. Her son is a farmer, an unaffiliated Jew. "I had a whole suitcase of presents for her. She got off the school bus, ran into the house and on the counter was a PJ Library envelope with her name on it from the Federation of Western Massachusetts. I had a suitcase full of presents, but she had to open up her PJ Library package first, give it to grandpa and say 'Let's go read it!' She is six!," she exclaimed.

1986 Woman's Division event, titled 'We're Back' after years of being put on the back burner, Woman's Division (a precursor to Choices) came back with its first guest speaker, Dr. Ruth Westheimer (center). Shown with Westheimer are Rochelle Richman (left) and Ina Porth.

"This is what happens with unaffiliated families. If that's the only connection, it's something. It is very important. It's not a project. It's not a program. It's an investment," she stated.

After talking about several other federations that meet the needs of their Jewish communities, Porth was asked "What would fit our needs?"

"That's interesting, I don't know," she answered candidly. Porth then shared Jody Harburger's (JFGO executive director, 1987) idea of community-each community in Europe had a kahal, which served as a Jewish community council or as a decision-making committee of a kehilah. It was made up of a group of wealthy men who would meet to discuss the needs of the community. They raised money for the orphans, widows, those who needed help. They took care of each other. "That's how I see what we need to do-investing in, nurturing the next generation."

Choices takes place at Congregation Ohev Shalom at 7 p.m. on April 14. For more information, visit http://www.jfgo.org or call Meril Salzburg at 407-645-5933, ext. 239.


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