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

Kehillah is a must for everyone to see! 


November 17, 2017

What an eventful day Sunday, Nov. 12, was! It was the opening of the Kehillah: A History of Jewish Life in Greater Orlando exhibit, and it is an amazing history. As a volunteer for the project, I attended the opening “thank you” luncheon for volunteers and sponsors. During the program, Marcia Jo Zerivitz, LHD, exhibition curator, said in the word “history” is the word “story,” and this is the living story of this Jewish community.

Walking through the exhibit is enlightening, but to walk through with descendants of the first Jews to arrive in Central Florida made it heartwarming.

As I read about the Bornsteins, Shaders, Ettingers and Meitins, (forgive me if I missed some families) there stood Mardi and Ron Shader and Bernie Kahn with me. Kahn pointed out his grandfather and mother in pictures. Ron Shader was about 12 in one family portrait. Tess Wise was there, and she doesn’t look that much different from the photo of her and Abe Wise when they were first married.

Eva Ritt and I viewed all the artifacts about Soviet Jews—letters and passports of those this community helped free from the confines of the Soviet Union. “That’s my pendant!” exclaimed Ritt as she pointed to a triangle necklace on display.

This opening event was like a reunion. People who hadn’t seen each other in years were hugging and reminiscing. A nice surprise was to see Paul and Faye Jeser, who flew in from Los Angeles. Paul was once the executive director of the Federation and Faye, with her many talents, was a spark of life at Congregation Ohev Shalom.

Also in attendance was Myrtle Rutberg with her son, Gerald. It suddenly occurred to me that she is older than the exhibit itself! Which just goes to show that 100 years isn’t that long a period of time.

This exhibit is priceless. The work that Roz Fuchs, Zerivitz, Lisa Schwartz, Rachel Heimovics Braun, Sara Stern and Richard Schwartz put into it over the past three years is phenomenal. Every one must go see this history of the Jewish people here in Orlando. And I mean everyone—Jews and non-Jews, because it is very apparent that the Jewish pioneers of Central Florida really built this community, from the citrus industry to real estate to technology. It just makes a person proud to be called a Jew or to be associated with the Jewish people. And that is pretty precious at this time because there is so much anti-Semitism in the world.

I think it should be mandatory that every student from first to 12th grade visit the exhibit and take hold of this history. Perhaps some of these descendants who were at the opening can be there with them?

For those who can’t see the entire exhibit (it probably takes about a good three hours to read everything), there is a catalog of the exhibit (and more articles and photos) available in the History Center’s gift shop. It is $20 and well-worth the investment, and all the proceeds go to the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando.

The exhibit will be on display at the Orange County Regional History Center through Feb. 20, 2018. There is a public parking garage across the street and ubering is always a good idea when trying to get around downtown. Admission is $8 for adults; $7 for seniors, students and military; $6 for children age 5-12; free for members and Florida educators.

—Christine DeSouza


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