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

Fighting cancer with help from Jewish Pavilion 'family'


November 2, 2018

Walter Goldstein at a Jewish Pavilion program in early summer. 

Jewish Pavilion program directors touch many lives, and many in the community reacted with shock and concern upon learning recently that Walter Goldstein, the program director for south Orlando, was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. Goldstein has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from Orlando's Jewish community and from staff and residents of so many of the eldercare communities.

The process of seeking healing with an aggressive treatment schedule has left Goldstein with abundant time for reflection. In a recent conversation, he shared what he has learned in the two months since his diagnosis.

One of the phrases that has resonated for him in recent weeks is "it takes a village." Before his illness, he saw Orlando's Jewish community as having a number of "villages"-the various denominations, congregations, and organizations-all operating independently in their separate spheres. But since his diagnosis, he has heard from rabbis and congregations of all denominations.

"They're all gathering around," said Goldstein. "I don't belong to any congregation, but every one of them is reaching out to me for prayer and for strength and for support." He has also received get-well cards made by children at several of the congregations.

Such widespread support has caused him to reevaluate his previous view of local Jewish institutions as separate. "It is not just a Jewish community. It's more than that. It's about family. Every one of them is taking this one Jewish person in as part of the family," he said.

People at senior adult facilities he works with (and even many at facilities he doesn't regularly work with) have also been reaching out with cards, Facebook and text messages, e-mails and more. Many of them have contributed to a fund set up to help Goldstein and his family with expenses. The Goldstein Family Cancer Fight page on the GoFundMe website has raised more than $10,000 since early September and is still welcoming contributions.

One community that Goldstein has long served has gone even further. A resident of Kinneret Apartments in downtown Orlando is planning a fundraiser for him on Nov. 24. Many residents there have a long and very fond relationship with Goldstein, who was performing there as "Sky Walters" for many years before he began working for the Jewish Pavilion. He is very touched by their concern and well wishes: "They've sent me, so far, three envelopes of donations, and they're still working on it," he said.

All of this support and kindness has given Goldstein a new understanding of the Jewish Pavilion's reach and impact in the community. "We're not just a nonprofit organization that goes around to keep Jewish seniors in touch with their history, their holidays, their heritage, their traditions, their foods and music," he said. "We're not just connecting eldercare residents to a caring Jewish community. We are a family."

He feels that the seniors he serves have come to see him as a nephew or a son. "They're treating me as if I'm family that's sick. I'm not just somebody from a nonprofit. I'm not just somebody from an organization," he said. "It is one Jewish family."

He also notes that a number of the people he sees regularly do not have frequent visits from their own family-and some get no other visitors at all. "When we are with them once a month or few times a month, it's like we are members of their family."

Goldstein believes that the feeling of family extends to the Pavilion's role in the community. "When we're asking for donations, we're not asking to keep a nonprofit open. We're asking to keep the family together."


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