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

A lady of style and accomplishments: Jewish Pavilion Spring Fashion Show honors Elayne Burke Wershil


March 16, 2018

Elayne Burke Wershil

Edna Woolman Chase, a former editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine who is often credited as creator of the world's first fashion show, once said, "Fashion can be bought. Style one must possess." With this quote in mind, the creation of a memoriam to honor Elayne Burke Wershil seems most fitting at this year's Jewish Pavilion spring fashion show, to be held Thursday, April 12, at the Mall of Millenia. For while fashion was her love, it was her style that makes her most memorable.

Wershil, an active volunteer with the Jewish Pavilion and former co-president of the sisterhood at Congregation of Reform Judaism, passed away last April. A woman who pursued many passions that included cooking, entertaining, travel, fashion and volunteerism, Wershil accomplished much in her 90 years of life. She was absolutely adored by her husband, Jeffrey, and their four children. And was loved deeply by her five grandchildren: Gillian, Jeremy, Josh, Hannah and Emma. So when Nancy Ludin, CEO of the Jewish Pavilion, approached the family to inquire about a memorial, Wershil's daughters saw the selection of the organization's annual fashion show as an ideal way to honor their mom's extraordinary life.

Wershil was the mother of three daughters (Billie, Bonnie, and Bettsie) and one son (Adam).

"Our mother was very into fashion. She was very fashion-forward," said Bettsie, the youngest daughter. Classifying her mother's fashion choices as "adventurous," Bettsie added, "She was always ahead of the crowd in terms of what she wore." In fact, the sisters like to say that their mom was the first mom in Miami to wear bellbottoms back when they first debuted.

"Weren't they denim?" asked Bonnie, the middle of three daughters.

"Yeah, and nobody was doing that at the time," said Bettsie. "She was the talk of the town. Yeah, that was mom."

While Jeffrey worked in the wholesale liquor business, Wershil worked on the business of raising the family, with particular focus needed on Adam, who suffered an illness at 7 months that resulted in special needs. The family resided in Miami for a while. A brief job transfer to Jacksonville resulted in a quick move back to Miami. And yet, even with all the hectic schedules that can come with the raising of a family, Wershil managed to find the time to go back to evening classes at the University of Miami, completing her college degree in education. "That was a big part of what was so inspiring about her and what made her who she was," said Bettsie of the accomplishment.

Eventually, the oldest sister, Billie, would settle in Maitland with her husband, Larry Parker, working as a teacher at Maitland Middle School for 30 years while helping to care for her brother Adam. Middle daughter, Bonnie, and her husband, Thom Marsteller, settled in Dallas, and the youngest daughter, Bettsie, ended up in St. Davids, Pa., with husband, Dr. Steven Greenbaum.

In the 1980s, Elayne and Jeffrey made the choice to move to Longwood in order to be closer to both Billie and Adam. Billie got to enjoy the benefits of having her mother live so close.

"She and I were shopping buddies. We loved to go shopping," said Billie. "We would walk into Macy's or Bloomingdales or wherever we went and all the people in there knew us."

Elayne and Jeffrey got to travel the world and enjoyed entertaining friends throughout their 55 years of marriage before Jeffrey passed away in 2002. Their son Adam passed away this past November.

Each of the sisters have individual memories of their mom that they love to share. "She was a fabulous cook," said Billie, sharing the memory of her mom making a huge pot of spaghetti sauce, where all the kids would get to be taste testers.

Bonnie recollects her mom's creation of a cookbook that was meant to raise funds for Adam's school, the Vanguard School, back in Miami.

Bettsie remembers her mom teaching a class on how to cook noodle kugel as part of Jewish Pavilion programming at Village on the Green. "She took one of her talents and transferred it into something she could share," admired Bettsie.

The sisters also cite their mom's active work in the community beyond just the Jewish Pavilion. Wershil was a community clergy for her temple and would visit Jewish patients at Florida Hospital as part of that role.

Most of all she simply loved people. And it was that love of people that led to her involvement with the Jewish Pavilion. "She loved to talk. Oh, did she love to talk," said Billie. "And she loved to visit."

"She valued what [the Jewish Pavilion] did," said Bettsie. "She valued that they went into nursing homes and did different things. That they went into venues and brought Judaism to people who ordinarily wouldn't have had the opportunity. The fact that they brought in Shabbat always resonated with her in a positive way."

Circling back to the family's decision to honor their mom at this year's fashion show, the sisters reflect on Wershil's dedicated love of fashion.

Bettsie, describing her mom's closet, declares it was "very colorful." "Everything was color coordinated. All shirts that were beige were hung together. All the shirts that were red were hung together. She was very into the palettes."

"When we went to clean out her closet it was like, 'Oh my gosh. She had so many clothes'," said Billie, adding that her mom "loved purses and loved shoes."

There was even a mink stole that Wershil would complain she never got to wear. So she would every so often make the choice to wear it to the grocery store.

Her legendary look of black pants, black shirt and a colorful jacket was her hallmark.

In her later years, when use of a walker became a necessity, Mardi Gras beads added a touch of pizzazz to her walker.

When asked how it feels to have the fashion show named in their mother's honor, Bettsie said, "It's amazing that we are able to have something that is so appropriate to her personality."

"It's very special to have someone remember her in such a grand way," continued Bettsie. "We all think of her every day because she was such a grand person. But it's nice to have other people remember her in such a special, meaningful way."

The Elayne Burke Wershil Memorial Fashion Show takes place Thursday, April 12, at 10:45 a.m. The event will be held at the Mall of Millenia, inside Bloomingdale's on Level 2. Ticket prices range from $25-500 and can be purchased online at JewishPavilion.org.


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