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

Jews in the Land of Disney: With family and friends, Debbie Meitin has lived a wonderful life


August 21, 2020

Debbie Meitin and Larry Gutter with the penguins in Antarctica.

"I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the only child of Rosalind and Irving Dorsky. My grandparents came from Belarus and Ukraine to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. My paternal grandfather was a tailor and my maternal grandfather had a pet store and was a part-time cantor. I have warm memories of my grandfather teaching me how to sew," Debbie Meitin said.

Meitin's parents met at a dance held by a Jewish organization. "My father was an attorney, but he worked with his brother in a successful, plumbing supply business until retirement."

Her mother worked at Wiley Junior High as a librarian. "My mother knew Cantor Allan Robuck (Congregation Ohev Shalom) when he was a student there and later a teacher. She was a remarkable woman who taught me the value of friends and family. But more importantly, she taught me to have the right attitude toward life. I can sum my mom up perfectly by saying she was always able to 'make lemonade out of lemons.'"

Growing up in a Conservative Jewish home, her parents kept kosher. She was a bat mitzvah, a member of the youth choir in synagogue, and she actively participated in United Synagogue Youth in high school and later in Hillel in college. It was in USY that she started doing Israeli dancing.

Meitin attended Michigan State University where she earned a B.S. in Medical Technology, and worked at university hospitals in Cleveland for six years. Later, she attended graduate school at Ohio State University where she received a master's in Health Administration.

After graduate school, Meitin worked for Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital, and then moved to Chicago to work for Ernst & Whinney, consulting for health-care facility planning. Some of her consulting projects took her to Boston, Nashville, Phoenix, Charleston and several other cities. In Orlando, Meitin worked in health care executive search, consulting with Ernst & Young, then at Florida Hospital.

While living in Chicago, Meitin went on a Jewish singles cruise with a friend, sponsored by the JCC of St. Louis. Orlando resident Laurie Shader Smith went along to help a friend who was in charge of the Jewish singles group. Shader suggested her cousin, Samuel Meitin, join them on the cruise. Debbie met Samuel at the LA airport before boarding the cruise. By the end of the trip Samuel was convinced they would be married, and sure enough, they were married 10 months later in 1987.

"Samuel was born and grew up in Orlando. We were blessed to have the love and support of Samuel's family. Samuel and I estimated that there were at least 75 relatives living in area. His parents were part of the Wise and Shader families, who had been in Orlando for many years. I was also blessed to become stepmother to Jennifer and Rebecca," she said.

Samuel and Debbie were married for 20 years.

"Samuel was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his 20s, but he was remarkable, always with a positive outlook on life. ... Samuel was insistent about having a party for our 20th anniversary. He was so proud that we had achieved 20 years, but passed away from complications of MS before we could have the party."

Meitin has always been active in the Jewish community. One of the first things she did after moving to Orlando was to check out Israeli folk dancing, a passion of hers, at the Jewish Community Center. Just a few months later, she became the leader after being asked by instructor Darcy Silvers to take over a "temporary" substitute position, and has been doing so for the past 32 years.

She has served in various roles at Temple Israel, active on the ritual committee and board of the synagogue. In 2000, Temple Israel needed a cantor and she was asked to "fill in," working with Rabbi Rick Sherwin. That position lasted for six years, chanting for services, teaching b'nai mitzvah students and other duties. She studied with Cantor Moshe Friedler in Tampa and Cantor Laurie Rimland-Bonn in Orlando to be better prepared for her role.

In 2009, she was asked to be the High Holiday cantor for Temple Israel.

"The rabbi at that time was Rabbi Gary Perras. Rabbi Neely came the following year. I knew a lot of the prayers, since I had been chanting the Shacharit and Mincha services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But there were many prayers I didn't know and it required a tremendous amount of preparation on my part. I believe things must have worked out well, as I've been the High Holiday cantor ever since."

Meitin has been volunteering with Jewish Pavilion since its beginning, leading services for Shabbat and holidays and other activities like playing mahjong with residents.

"Sheryl Meitin, the wife of Julian Meitin, who was Samuel's older brother, along with Claire Chepenik founded the Jewish Pavilion in 2001. At the time there were no Jewish nursing homes in the area. Our Jewish elderly were living in various elder-care facilities, which had no Jewish programming or connections. The idea was to care for the Jewish seniors by offering a connection to the Jewish community by providing a variety of services that came to them."

Meitin has been actively involved in the Jewish National Fund since 2008 and served as Orlando president for three years. "What I love about JNF is that it offers valuable funding for a large variety of programs in Israel that help the people of Israel and improve the land."

She received JNF's Tree of Life award in 2018.

For 20 years, Meitin has been involved with the Chevra Kadisha (sacred society). It is the organization of Jewish men and women who prepare deceased Jews for burial according to Jewish tradition. "It is particularly meaningful to perform this ritual when the deceased is someone I knew."

Meitin married a second time in 2012 to Larry Gutter.

Debbie Meitin's parents wedding. (seated in front), Rosalind and Irving Dorsky, (standing l-r) Rosalind's parents, Julius and Pauline Levinsky and Irving's parents, David and Mollie Dorsky.

"Samuel and I met Larry and Ellen Gutter after they moved to Orlando from Westborough, Massachusetts, and joined Temple Israel. I taught their daughter Amy and helped her prepare for her bat mitzvah. We became friends and used to do things as couples. Larry has a computer repair business that he still operates today. Larry's wife died in 2005 after fighting cancer for several years. We were there with them during this difficult time in their lives. Then Samuel passed away in 2007," she shared.

"Larry and I remained friends and he continued to fix my computers, then in 2010 things got more serious and we got married in 2012. And I was blessed to now have a third stepdaughter, Amy."

The couple enjoy traveling, attending concerts and plays here in Orlando, and have become involved with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orlando Museum of Art.

"I came here over 30 years ago and have enjoyed a wonderful life. I'm truly grateful for the love and support I've received from family and friends. I feel blessed with our wonderful children and grandchildren. Jennifer and Jeff Prechter have two children, Abigail and William. Rebecca Meitin is engaged. Amy Darrah has four boys, Anthony, Odin, Orion and Tiberius, and they live in Juneau, Alaska."


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