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

Hundreds celebrate at Federation's Choices 2017


Choices attendees don their pink shawls.

A capacity crowd of more than 460 women and men attended Choices 2017: Beautiful Inside and Out on Feb. 9 at Congregation Ohev Shalom in Maitland. It was one of the largest audiences in the 23-year history of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando's women's philanthropy event.

Significantly, more than 150 people were first-time Choices attendees.

The evening kicked off with a cocktail hour and hors d'oeuvre buffet by Arthur's Creative Events & Catering. The "Choices Pinktini," this year's signature cocktail, was a popular selection among the ladies.

Choices co-chairs Heidi Zissman and Leigh Norber welcomed the crowd, and then introduced the main attraction for the evening-the Women of Choice awards presentation.

This year, Federation honored eight Women of Choice, each nominated by and representing Central Florida's Jewish agencies. The ladies were spotlighted in a 14-minute video tribute featuring the honorees, in their own words, talking about the values that drive them to work so hard on behalf of their agencies. The women received a standing ovation as the video concluded. Federation President Rhonda Forest then presented each honoree with her award.

"These women sacrifice their time and their treasures for the betterment of us all, and they do it with passion, with grace and with heart," Forest said in the video. "They share a deep-rooted love for the Orlando Jewish community, and tonight is about returning that love to them and saying 'thank you.' "

This year's Women of Choice are: Es Cohen (The Roth Family JCC), Wendi Harris (Rosen JCC), Eve Homburger (Holocaust Memorial Resource & Education Center), Nina Oppenheim (Central Florida Hillel), Ali Polejes (Kinneret Council on Aging), Elise Schilowitz (The Jewish Pavilion), Miriam Varnagy (Jewish Academy of Orlando), and Madeline Wolly (Jewish Family Services of Greater Orlando).

The Federation has posted the full Women of Choice tribute video online at http://www.jfgo.org/choices.

Following the awards presentation, Federation's 2017 Annual Campaign co-chair, Danielle Krise, spoke passionately about the many ways the Federation has touched her life and transformed the lives of Jews in Israel and around the world. She reminded supporters that their gifts to Federation make this work possible.

"The Federation is the heart of our community, and you, our wonderful women, are the lifeblood of the Federation," Krise said. "Did you know that 57 percent of Federation's Annual Campaign comes from women's philanthropy? That's the power of women!"

This year's celebrity guest, makeup artist and entrepreneur Sonia Kashuk, along with her sister, Winter Park Realtor Sheryl Kashuk, engaged in a lively 'Choices Conversation," covering a wide range of topics, from Sonia's business ventures and early career challenges to both sisters' triumph over breast cancer and their philanthropic work to support breast cancer research.

The evening concluded, per tradition, with the Choices Raffle. Co-chairs Zissman and Norber, with the assistant of Federation RAISE employee Caitlyn Chambers, announced the lucky prize winners.

Sonia Kashuk (l) and Sheryl Kashuk.

"Choices was nothing short of exceptional this year," Forest said. "Heidi and Leigh were outstanding, raising more money than ever in corporate sponsorships and raffle prizes."

One of the personal highlights, Forest said, was the presence of more than 150 first-time attendees.

"It was heartening to see so many new faces at Choices," she said, "and we hope these women will return to future events and become part of our growing Federation family."

Choices was made possible in part due to the generosity of the Choices 2017: Diamond Sponsors Dottie and Dick Appelbaum, and Ruby Sponsors FastSigns of Orlando-Central, 5000 E. Colonial Drive, and Orlando Health.

You can read more about Choices and view more than 150 photos from the event at http://www.jfgo.org/choices.


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