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

2017 Community Year in Review


September 15, 2017

October 2016

The new year started off late (according to our Gregorian calendar). Tishrei 1, 5777 was on Oct. 3, 2016. New enterprises began, such as Zayde’s Kosher Catering, an extension of Zayde’s Kosher Kitchen, which was already established in the Rosen Plaza Hotel—the only hotel in town with a kosher kitchen to serve all its hotel guests. Now the kosher service is available for anyone who wants any event catered by a completely kosher service.

And what a way to enter the new year! Florida’s 550,000-strong Jewish community braced for the worst as Hurricane Matthew bombarded the Sunshine State on Oct. 7. The deadly Category 4 storm, downgraded to Category 3 by mid-morning, blasted the Florida coast with winds as high as 120 miles per hour after wreaking havoc through the Caribbean. Chabad of Southwest Orlando set up a hotline and assisted tourists and residents.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando’s RAISE program, the only program of its kind in the United States, entered its third year recognizing abilities and inclusion of special employees with six new participants.

Two local authors became celebrities of sorts. Joanie Holzer Schirm’s nonfiction “Adventurers Against Their Will” became an educational resource in the book “Essentials of Holocaust Education,” and Rene Brent’s book “How Big is Your But: became a bestseller.

November 2016

The Rosen JCC welcomed its new executive director, Joel Berger. Former exec, Bonnie Rayman, moved to South Florida for a new job opportunity and to be closer to her family.

Professor Moshe Pelli released his newest book, “Kochvei Yitzhak, The Journal of the Haskalah in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1845-1873).” This is the sixth book in the series of monographs and annotated indices on the periodicals of the Hebrew enlightenment in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Robby Etzkin was promoted to executive director of The Roth Family JCC, which had created a new position of CEO for Keith Dorchik when he was hired.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando geared up for its debt-retirement plan, Campaign 2020. The goal is to pay off the remaining Maitland campus debt of $4.5 million by 2020.

December 2016

With fewer Jewish residents living at Kinneret, and because only about 30 residents participate in the meal service, Kinneret Council on Aging decided to restructure its meal program. Meals are now outsourced to Orlando Lutheran Towers; morning coffee and breads are provided; additional holiday meals were added; and the onsite Farmer’s Market offers free produce twice a month.

Thanks to a generous donation by Marc and Henrietta Katzen, all Jewish Academy students have access to iPads, enhancing their educations.

Local author Yvonne David’s book, “Out of the Apple Orchard,” went from written word to concert reading to a play. It was performed at the Orlando Repertory Theatre under the directorship of Tony award-winning producer and director Kenny Howard.

Eleven future Jewish community leaders graduated from the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando’s Jerome J. Bornstein Leadership Development Program. The new alumni are Ari Vinokur, Andrew Gluck, Mollie Savage, Sam Friedman, Alaina Wilder, Isaac Greenberg, Ming Marx, Heidi Zissman, Jessica Hoch, Marissa Branisavljevic and Michelle Zaltsberg.

With fires destroying so many of the Israeli forests, local resident Bruce Gould, who is the National Major Gifts chair for JNF, visited one of the hardest hit areas in the greater Jerusalem region. He wanted to see the extent of the devastation and assess how Americans can help restore the land, and prevent something like this happening in the future.

January 2017

The Maitland Jewish Community Campus ensured the security of the campus by hiring a security director, Andrew Brennan who officially started on Jan. 3. And what a way to start—on Jan. 4 and 5 the Jewish Academy of Orlando received a bomb threat. The school and campus were evacuated and Maitland Police handled the situation quickly and proficiently. About 10 minutes later, Chabad of South Orlando received a bomb threat. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office was prompt to respond. The children and staff were evacuated and K-9s sniffed the property. In both cases, there was no bomb. Again, on Monday, Jan. 9, the JCC received a bomb threat. In all there were 16 JCCs across the country that received bomb threats.

Orlando Jewish Day School fifth-grader Esther Menoni won an elementary school spelling bee against 30 other elementary students and continued on the compete at the national level.

February 2017

The Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando’s largest women’s philanthropy event recognized not just one woman of choice, but eight. The Women of Choice are Es Cohen, Wendi Harris, Dr. Eve Homberger, Nina Oppenheim, Ali Polejes, Elise Schilowitz, Miriam Varnagy, and Madeline Wolly.

Congregation Ohev Shalom honored Amy Geboff for her years of service as the director of Youth and Family Education at its annual Gala.

March 2017

The Kinneret Council on Aging honored honorees for the 8 Over 80 event. Congratulations to the eight honored: Dick Appelbaum, Sheldon Brook, Judith Cohen, Phyllis Englander, Edith Fenster, Melvin Kohn, Sonia Mandell and Helen Tetenbaum.

Five teen members of the Orlando chapter of HaZamir sang at Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York as part of the 400-member international Jewish high school choir. The teens, under the leadership of Cantor Jacqueline Rawiszer, are Harrison Burke, Maya Milsom, Alexa Schein, Vicki Geismar and Hannah Schenkel.

Chabad and the UCF Jewish community celebrated its fifth annual Shabbat 1000 on March 3. The goal of the project, which was developed by th eChabad on Campus International Foundation, is to continue building on Jewish unity until the dinner reaches 1,000 participants.

The Roth Family JCC launched a 24-hour $200K fundraiser and the community responded quickly, meeting the goal within a few hours. When the deadline came, $428,274 had been raised.

Altamonte Springs welcomed a new Chabad rabbi to the community. Rabbi Mendy Bronstein, his wife Mussie and their three children eagerly engaged themselves into the community, which welcomed them with open arms.

On March 23, an arrest was made in connection with the bomb threats across the U.S. The suspect is a Jewish teenager with dual Israeli and American citizenship living in Ashkelon.

The Jewish Academy of Orlando hired a new director of academics. Nikki Buyna begins her job in June.

Another Nikki is making news. Nikki Haley, the U.S. envoy to the UN, is proving herself to be a staunch supporter of Israel.

Another newcomer to the Jewish community is Ashlyn Douglass-Barnes, LCSW. She was welcomed to the counseling, Growth and Development Program at JFS Orlando.

April 2017

The Jewish community can be proud of three of its young people: Zev Halikman, grandson of King William and Pearl Halikman, and former Winter Park resident Ory Tasman, made the USA Maccabi Water Polo Team and will compete in the 20th World Maccabi Games in Israel in July; and Asher Ravede, son of James and Lisa Ravede of Ormond Beach and grandson of Joan Ravede of Orange City, became the youngest inductee into the Daytona Running Series Hall of Fame. Mazel Tov to these young men!

Speaking of young people, Lake Brantley High School students, in an effort to combat hate, started a Jewish group called Club L’Chaim, sponsored by Chabad of Altamonte Springs. The group’s first program, titled “Never Again,” hosted Holocaust survivor Gene Klein who spoke before an overflow crowd of more than 750 people.

Cathy Cotter, the Early Childhood Learning Center’s preschool music specialst for 34 years, was honored with the Harriet Weiss JCC Legacy Award.

On Friday, April 28, the Jewish Academy of Orlando bid farewell to Shari Wladis, who had been principal of the school for 17 years.

May 2017

Rabbi Steven and Beverly Engel of Congregation of Reform Judaism are very proud of their son, Chef Zachary Engel, who on May 1 was honored with winning the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year. Engel is the chef de cuisine at Shaya restaurant in New Orleans.

Mazel tov to 15 fifth graders who graduated from the Jewish Academy of Orlando and will continue their educations at some of the best middle schools in the city, both private and public.

June 2017

Gov. Rick Scott paid an unscheduled visit to the Orlando Torah Academy in Southwest Orlando in early June. Accompanied by Mayor Buddy Dyer and State Representative Randy Fine, the governor spoke about his bill providing security funding for Jewish schools throughout Florida.

Looks like the Weils have the care of college-aged youth and senior citizens covered. Sharon Weil, wife of Aaron Weil, CEO and executive director of Central Florida Hillel, was appointed director of Programming and Development at the Kinneret Council on Aging. She will be filling the shoes of Leslie Collin, who led Kinneret for 10 years.

July 2017

The Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando hired Ben Friedman as its new director of Community Relations and Leadership Development, replacing Marni Porth. If his name sounds familiar, his brother, Sam Friedman is the assistant director of Central Florida Hillel.

The Central Florida representatives to the 20th Maccabiah Games in Israel did well in their sports. While Ori Tasman and Zev Halikman didn’t take home medals, they both did well in the water polo games. However, two tennis players medaled: Aviva Diamond won Bronze in the Girls Doubles and Lazar Lowinger (age 82) won Gold in Doubles and a Bronze in singles tennis.

August 2017

Sara Stern was the recipient of the Heritage Human Service Award. She received the most “likes” ever on the Heritage FB page. UCF student Alexa Goldstein was chosen to be one of only 17 members of the second cohort of the Hillel International Student Cabinet. This is the first time a UCF student has been selected for this honor. JFGO Executive Director Olga Yorish left her position to pursue other professional opportunities. Another notch for UCF Central Florida Hillel, the Nu Delta Chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity was named top Birthright recruiter in the world.

The Central Florida delegation to 35th annual JCC Maccabi Games, held in Birmingham, N.Y., returned with medals! Congratulations to Nathaniel Cohen of Orlando who won the silver medal in Boys 14U tennis, and twins Micah and Lana Katz of Sarasota who won silvers in swimming.

September 2017

As the year began, so it will end. Last year came in with a whirlwind called Matthew, a category 3 hurricane by the time it hit Florida’s coasts, and now as the Houston Jewish community began recovery efforts from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, the South Florida and Central Florida Jewish communities faced Hurricane Irma, the largest Atlantic hurricane in history. As the Heritage goes to production (early for fear of power failure), we are waiting to see where it will hit. Let’s hope this currently category 5 storm quickly downgrades as it reaches our shores.

L’ shana tova!


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