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

Appreciating volunteers


August 24, 2018

Elise Schilowitz (l) visits with a senior.

As it gears up to celebrate its milestone 18th anniversary at its Gems and Jeans Gala on Oct. 28, The Jewish Pavilion and its Friends of the Pavilion Board are looking back with nostalgia and gratitude on the many dedicated and hardworking volunteers who have given so much of themselves since its earliest days. Two of its longest serving and most devoted volunteers are Elise Schilowitz and Gloria Newberger.

Schilowitz has been an active member of Orlando's Jewish community since she moved here with her husband and young children in 1971. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Forest Hills, Queens, she married Henry Schilowitz in 1962, having graduated college a year early so she could work as a teacher while he was in medical school.

After her husband completed his residency at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga., during the height of the Vietnam War, they visited Orlando and decided to settle here. Schilowitz raised her children-two sons and a daughter-and worked as the office manager in her husband's private practice in obstetrics and gynecology.

When her husband closed his practice in 2004 and went to work for Orlando's VA hospital (he retired in March at the age of 80), Schilowitz was looking to volunteer, and her friend Ruth Bernstein recommended that she join the Friends of the Jewish Pavilion Board. She jumped in with both feet and has been integral to the Pavilion's operations ever since, including joining the board of directors and serving a term as its president.

Schilowitz has made many individual visits to residents and also helped with Shabbat and holiday programs, especially during the many years her mother was a resident at Brookdale Lake Orienta and later at Oakmonte Village. She helped with programs at Savannah Court for a long time and has substituted as service leader at other living facilities. She tends to make light of her contributions, but Nancy Ludin, the Pavilion's executive director, knows how much she brings to the seniors whose lives she touches.

"She's the life of the party," said Ludin. "She comes in, she smiles, she gives everybody kisses. She's really warm and she makes people feel good about things, and she brings this light wherever she goes."

For many years, Schilowitz chaired the Pavilion's annual gala, an enjoyable evening of food, friends and fun, as well as an important source of funding for the organization's work in the community. Bringing together all the elements for such a big event takes hard work and long hours, but it's a job Schilowitz very much enjoyed.

"It's fun!" she said. "You're making parties and having a good time."

In the Pavilion's early days, before it was well known in the community, she and Friends Board member Corinne Brail worked together to get ads for the tribute book and organize the donations for the auctions. "We had very few things that were donated," Schilowitz recalled. In their effort to put those items in the most appealing light, "we made poems up for all the things that we were going to auction off."

Each year for many years, Schilowitz has stored the items for the Gala's auction at her home as they were collected over several months, devoting most of a little-used room to the growing piles. Ludin appreciates the work Schilwitz puts into documenting and organizing the items, saying that when it comes time for Gala Committee members to finalize and wrap the items, it makes that big job so much easier.

Along with longtime Friends Board member Miriam Josephs, Schilowitz also chaired the Pearls of the Pavilion Luncheon for many years. The annual event invites the Pavilion's significant donors for a fun afternoon of food and culture. Under the guidance of Schilowitz and Josephs, past themes have included an "Antiques Roadshow"-like experience, a jewelry designer, and a formal tea served on antique china.

Schilowitz enjoys her involvement with both Jewish Pavilion boards because she finds the meetings to be so pleasant. "The board members enjoy what they're doing," she said. "And they're just nice to be with." Ludin is thankful for Schilowitz's dedication to The Jewish Pavilion's mission. "Lots of her wonderful friends have bowed out from volunteering as they've aged," said Ludin, "but she's continued to serve diligently and keep up wonderful relations with everybody."

For her part, Schilowitz finds her commitment to The Jewish Pavilion to be a satisfying part of her life.

"You make people's lives happier," she noted, especially for the many people who don't have family living in town. And as she ages, she realizes that it's likely that "someday, I'm going to very happy when they visit me."

That's something that Gloria Newberger can attest to. A volunteer and Friends of Jewish Pavilion Board member since almost immediately after she moved to Orlando in 2004, she moved to Oakmonte Village's independent living building about 2 years ago and is a regular attendee of-and helper for-the very popular and well attended Jewish Pavilion programs there.

Newberger grew up in a small town in Ohio until age 12 and then in Philadelphia until college. After she married, she and her husband, Edward, moved around with their two sons to New York and the Chicago area before settling in Philly, where their daughter was born.

That daughter is Nancy Ludin, who at the time her mother moved to Orlando was the campaign director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando and was an avid Jewish Pavilion volunteer. Inspired by the Pavilion's mission and its potential to reach many seniors who need a friend, Newberger quickly became active in the organization.

Recalled Ludin, "some of the seniors she visited at the very beginning had not been visited by the Jewish community ever." The first person Newberger was sent to visit, Shirley Sonne, had been very active in the Jewish community before moving into senior living. Newberger vividly remembers the first time they met. "When I walked in the door, she said, 'I thought the Jewish community had completely forgotten me.'"

Newberger was determined to make Sonne feel like part of the community again. "My mom came every week," Ludin said. "Whatever Shirley asked for, my mother brought her. She said, 'I like gefilte fish,' my mother brought her gefilte fish; she said 'I like chopped liver,' she brought her chopped liver. She did that with many people over the years."

Newberger began visiting Regent Park several days a week to visit with Sonne and other residents. Then she started going to Savannah Court. "For over 10 years, every Monday I did a happy hour," Newberger said. Other Friends Board members began helping as well, including Susie Stone, Shirley Schoenberger and Corinne Brail. "We would visit with the residents, sing some songs, and serve refreshments," Newberger said.

Newberger's sunny personality is a big asset as she makes these visits. Ludin was often at the Savannah Court and other events and is very proud of her mother's impact: "She'd walk in the building and people who were dozing would wake up with big smiles on their faces. She'd walk around and hug everyone when she got there." When it was time to sing, said Ludin, her mother would "face each person as she sang and sing with them, then she'd move to the next person and sing with them, so they were getting individual attention. She was just wonderful with making people feel really special."

Knowing her mother's wonderful warmth, Ludin encouraged her to be a greeter at Jewish Pavilion events, along with another especially warm volunteer, Riva Shader. They took that role very seriously, said Ludin. They thanked people for coming as they came in the door, and "they hugged them and kissed them, even if they had no idea who they were," Ludin said.

They even did that at the Pavilion's Annual Fashion Show, standing at the top of the escalators at Bloomingdale's to greet guests as they arrived at the second floor. "But our fashion show wasn't the only thing going on at Bloomingdale's-some of the people were just shopping," laughed Ludin. "And these two older ladies would hug and kiss them when they got off the escalator. And they must have thought, 'Bloomingdales must be the nicest store in America! I can't believe I'm being hugged and kissed just to shop here!'"

Gloria Newberger (l) celebrates at a Jewish Pavilion Rosh Hashanah party.

Even when some of the people told them they weren't there for the fashion show, Newberger and Shader were unfazed and continued to treat them warmly. Said Ludin, "We really miss them doing that job. Nobody does it they way that they did it-it takes a special talent to hug a stranger."

Although Newberger no longer drives since moving to Oakmonte, her volunteering continues. She walks over to Oakmonte's assisted living and memory care buildings twice a month to help with Shabbat programs and looks forward to those days. In memory care, "they don't have that much to say sometimes," she said. "But when you start singing songs like 'Ain Keloheinu,' they do come around, and they seem to look forward to it."

Newberger has enjoyed her Jewish Pavilion volunteering very much and values the time she has devoted to it. "It's why I haven't played cards-I was so busy going to these various things," she laughed. "I felt very good about it."


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