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

Orlando visionary Roz Fuchs honored with Human Service Award


“In Judaism, prophets were considered visionary not because they predicted the future, but because they saw possibilities. Roz has always been someone with the ability to both see possibilities and then take that all-important step and make them happen,” said David Bornstein of his cousin Roz Fuchs, this year’s recipient of the Heritage Human Service Award.

From an array of multi-colored glass vases arranged neatly on a bookcase to the artwork on the walls and the simple arrangement of chairs and couches all brought together by a 1920’s-era area rug, handed down through the family, Roz Fuchs’ home is a reflection of the woman herself —elegant, unassuming, organized, down-to-earth, strong and gentle. Talking with her, one instantly feels she is a good friend to have, and that is exactly how so many others feel about her.

Kehillah exhibit curator Marcia Jo Zerivitz said of her, “(Roz) keeps track of people, makes each feel indispensable and is concerned about their personal lives. Choosing Roz for this award is brilliant. Fervent about Jewish values, she genuinely cares about our heritage and continuity. I don’t know how she juggles all the pieces in the midst of her own intense life. Roz is a ‘doer’—a gem!”

“If you want a job done and done well, ask Roz. Her attention to detail and thoughtful approach to all that she does is extraordinary,” said Sara Stern, last year’s recipient of the Human Service Award. “Her impeccable taste, thoughtful consideration and exemplary work ethic make all that she touches turn to gold. This community is fortunate to have someone who is so dedicated to its well being and the preservation of its history. Roz is a remarkable person and so deserving of the Heritage Human Service Award.”

To mention everything that Fuchs has been involved in would probably take up the entire newspaper. Her close friend Barbara Chasnov said it best, “When asked to write something about my dear friend, Roz Fuchs, for her most deserved Human Service Award, I didn’t know where to start. Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but quite the opposite. There’s so much to say about my amazing friend!”

“I am thrilled that my dear friend Roz is being recognized for her humanitarian work,” said Ina Porth from Hadley, Mass. “Roz is a very special woman and part of an extraordinary family. Doing good, always compassionate, always ready to help is in her genes. She did not fall far from tree, citrus at that. Any job she takes on is done with a full heart and done in only a way Roz can do...completely, correctly and with full measure.”

Daughter of Leon and Bea Ettinger, sister of Marilyn Crotty and Jeffrey Ettinger, and niece of Flossie Gluckman, Jerome Bornstein, Dorothy Morrell and Rita Levy, Fuchs was raised surrounded by Jewish community activists. Five members of her family had served as Federation presidents before she served from 1996 to 1998.

“Her mother, Bea Bornstein Ettinger, I feel, set the example and standard of how you can be a devoted wife and mother and still make a difference by caring for those who often didn’t have a voice,” said Chasnov.

As a youth, Fuchs joined BBG, was a founding member of the first USY Chapter in Orlando, and spent her summers at Camp Blue Star—all of which fed her love for Israel and the Jewish community.

Fuchs left Orlando for college in Madison, N.J. She got married and moved to Kinston, N.C. Orlando’s loss was North Carolina’s gain.

“Roz is a driven leader, intelligent, cognizant of the community and world around her and the needs—and she springs into action,” said Zerivitz.

It seems that wherever Fuchs goes, if there isn’t a Jewish group or organization that is needed, she will start one. Case in point, she was a founding member of Congregation Bayt Shalom, a conservative synagogue in Greenville.

“Four couples started it,” she said, “and it is still there.”

She was also volunteer education director of Bayt Shalom from 1978 to 1984.

While living in North Carolina, Fuchs became a key contact in AIPAC. A key contact is a person who has a personal relationship with legislators, and it just so happened that one of her neighbors was a state senator and his wife taught her children how to swim. She was also a member of the NC AIPAC Cabinet.

“The way North Carolina was organized at that time, we had a cabinet made up of Jewish people from all over the state who would come together,” she explained.

“My days with AIPAC started a long time ago,” she said. “The first policy conference I went to had maybe 500 people—now it is over 18,000 people!”

In Orlando, Fuchs was a community chair of AIPAC from 2001-2006, and served on the AIPAC National Advisory Board from 2005-2006, and she was awarded the AIPAC Leadership Award in 2006.

Fuchs also served on Gov. Jim Hunt’s North Carolina/Israel Scholar Exchange Advisory Board. Because the tobacco industry was transitioning in North Carolina, the governor saw that NC could benefit from the agricultural industry in Israel. He formed a Cabinet that figured a way for research professors from Israeli universities to come and work here while NC professors went to Israel.

But enough of Fuchs changing the Jewish world and agricultural industry in North Carolina! She returned to Orlando in 1985 and this community has been blessed with her endeavors ever since.

“When Roz returned to Orlando with her young family, it didn’t take her long to become involved with the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, her synagogue, Congregation Ohev Shalom, and the Bornstein Young Leadership Training program. She never tired of giving back to her Jewish community that certainly influenced her love of Judaism and Israel, and to this day, she is always thinking of ways to improve our changing Jewish lives in today’s Orlando,” said Chasnov.

“It was an interesting time,” Fuchs reflected, “because all of a sudden I was on committees with people like Abe and Zelig Wise, who were close family friends. I knew them as a child! And now I’m sitting around a table as adult to adult. It took me a while to get comfortable with the change.”

Her portal back into community was through her children. She enrolled her son, Sam, in the Hebrew Day School—and went on to serve as president from 1988 to 1990.

Fuchs joined Temple Israel, where her parents had been founding members, and her middle child, Jill, was bat mitzvahed there. A few years later, Fuchs switched to COS where Jill attended confirmation classes, and she began serving on the COS board as an officer and trustee.

Fuchs has served as the chairman of the Women’s Division, and admits that she has probably served on every Federation committee!

“Without question, Roz Fuchs is the most determined human being and detail-oriented person that I have ever met,” said Rabbi Aaron Rubinger. “I never want to be on her committee because she expects that same commitment from everyone!” he added jokingly.

But that’s the thing—no one ever says no to Fuchs!

“When Roz asks for help I always say yes,” Bornstein stated, “not out of obligation but because I know she will make it a success. And then I step out of the way and let her do her magic. Perfectly, of course, with unrivaled execution and outstanding leadership.” 

“Every organization wants a Roz Fuchs on their committees—that’s how they are successful,” Rubinger added. “She is incredible. People who know her know this is true. She is remarkable.”

Chasnov concurs, “If she is on a committee or chairing a project, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that it will be successful.”

One of the very successful Federation programs founded by Fuchs is the Jerome J. Bornstein Young and Senior Leadership Programs.

“I chaired the human resources development committee for strategic planning,” she explained. “Out of that came a recommendation that we should have an emerging leadership development group and a senior leadership group every other year.”

In true Fuchs fashion, she and her committee went to every agency and synagogue and asked what kind of things they want their leaders to know. Agencies and organizations then nominated people to be selected.

“At the time, my Uncle Jerry had just passed away and my parents decided to make an endowment for the program and we named it for Jerry,” Fuchs said.

“The first group loved it so much, they didn’t want it to end, and so instead of being from August to May, we added six months, but then realized that was too long.”

The Young Leadership Program settled down to a nine-month course every other year. She directed the program for 14 years.

“I’m very proud of that,” Fuchs expressed. “It was a very rewarding experience for me, not only did I make a lot of friends, which was great, but then to see the group gel and become a team and the participants became presidents of synagogues or agencies or chaired committees.”

Fuchs vision for the Leadership programs was broader then just training people for leadership roles.

She explained in her well-reasoned way, “The other part of our philosophy was that by having people that came from all different areas in the community, they realized that the JCC alone doesn’t make a community. A synagogue by itself doesn’t make a community. That there’s value and importance in everything that everybody is doing. As people got to know each other, they were able to cross boundaries. Somebody active at the J could call up somebody active at JFS and say ‘I’m working on such-and-such committee, how about joining me?’ Cross-pollination is really important. People burn out staying with the same agency or organization. So it was really good.”

The Senior Leadership program was to take place on alternate years. It never developed. Fuchs was disappointed, but her vision for this program is still hopeful.

“Maybe have four fabulous programs a year. Have a retreat and meet with somebody outstanding and talk about important issues of the day and do a mission to eastern Europe and Israel, have a scholar-in-residence,” she envisioned.

“I still think it’s a great concept. It would be to keep people from burning out—refresh them, get them reinvigorated and I think that’s important.”

One program, again chaired by Fuchs, that unified community was the Dorothy Morrell Cultural Series, which brought many famous speakers and entertainers to Central Florida—Wolf Blitzer, Joan Rivers and Alan King to name a few. Morrell had run a cultural series in earlier years. “It was phenomenal and very significant in the community,” Fuchs recalled. So when Morrell died, Fuchs was hoping something would be done in her memory. She and her mom, Bea, started thinking and together they came up with the idea of a cultural series for the JCC. Fuchs approached Marvin Friedman, executive director of the JCC at the time, and he agreed with the idea, but an endowment was needed, which was happily provided by Morrell’s children.

Most people probably don’t know or remember that before Kehillah, Fuchs was the project coordinator of “Our Story,” a community history from 1947 to 1999 for JFGO’s 50+ anniversary. She did the research and much of the writing of this 82-page documentary of the Orlando Jewish community. “Our Story” is this editor’s go-to book for information about the Orlando Jewish community’s past. And it paved the way to the three years of work that went into creating a 100-year history of the Orlando Jewish community.

“The 100 Years of Jewish Community project began with Roz seeing something that could be bigger than was originally imagined,” said Bornstein.

The exhibit was presented to the community for 100 days, and coincided with Ohev Shalom’s 100th Anniversary yearlong celebration.

“Although she has given so much of herself over the years, I believe the most meaningful gift that she gave to our community was the Kehillah Exhibit at the Orange County History Center,” said Chasnov. “The exhibit was conceived and delivered by Roz’s pure determination and will to make it happen. There were so many moving parts, committees, research, cataloguing, editing, and coordination to put this project together. It was her knowledge and love of Orlando and the historical memory of the Jewish community that drove her each day to keep the project on track to its conclusion.”

“I am truly blessed to have worked closely with Roz on the COS Centennial and Kehillah exhibit and to have acquired her friendship along the way,” said Stern.

“When I volunteered to work with Roz as the Kehillah exhibit curator, I instantly gained a close friend for life. Roz is a “doer”—a gem,” stated Zerivitz.

“When I first saw the exhibit, l literally cried with emotion to see what Roz first dreamed and then became a reality. It was so meaningful as every word, photo, and detail was thought out to perfection,” Chasnov recalled.

For Fuchs, the Kehillah exhibit revealed all the contributions the Jewish community has made to help make Orlando what it is today, and she is proud of what she sees.

“We know our communities faults, but we don’t praise all the good things,” Fuchs commented. “[The community] is filled with generous, talented people. When you add up all the different organizations and the amount of dollars raised for all the good things—it’s a lot to be proud of!”

Her vision for Kehillah is not over. Currently, Fuchs is working on creating a website of the exhibit—complete with a 360 video of the exhibit, the catalog and merchant map—to be used for research purposes and preserve the history of this community

The driving force behind Fuchs is her unwavering belief that the life-blood of organizations is the volunteers. Asked what she sees as the greatest need in the Jewish community today, she responded (after much thought) that she’d like to see the Senior Leadership program revived. Perhaps she could be in the first group to be invigorated and refreshed in order to continue giving to the Jewish community she loves so dearly.

“Roz is a treasure to our community,” Chasnov expressed, “and I can only hope, that she goes from strength to strength as we all are the recipients of her passion and love for Orlando and the Jewish people around the world.”

Space does not permit the listing of all of Fuchs’ awards throughout her years of service to the Jewish community. However, Sara Stern will share much more about her as she presents the Human Service Award to Roz Fuchs at the Federation Annual Meeting on Aug. 5 (held from 10 a.m. to noon) at The Roth Familly JCC.


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