The Jewish Federation of Florida’s Gulf Coast will be celebrating, in memoriam, the lives of Joan and Jerry Benstock, two dynamic members of the community who gave so much to make our community vibrant and strong. To recognize their contributions, the Federation will hold an exciting in-person kickoff event for its 2024 Annual pledge drive, Thursday, November 2nd, at Congregation Beth Shalom, in Clearwater. Tickets are $180 each. Festivities begin with cocktails at 6:30 pm. The main program begins at 7 pm. Register through the form below, or visit JewishGulfCoast.org/KICKOFF.
“We were very fortunate to have Joan and Jerry Benstock as members of our community,” Maxine Kaufman, Executive Director of The Jewish Federation of Florida’s Gulf Coast reflected recently. “They were generous supporters of Congregation B’nai Israel, in Saint Pete, and Menorah Manor,” Kaufman recalled, referring to the senior health organization now known as MenorahLife. Outside the Jewish community, the Benstocks were significant supporters of the Morton Plant Mease Healthcare Foundation, which provides philanthropic support to not-for-profit Morton Plant Mease hospitals. “There, they started a nursing scholarship program called Earn As You Learn that enables nursing students to work in Morton Plant Mease hospitals while earning their nursing degree,” Kaufman said. “Joan and Jerry passed down the value of giving – tzedakah - to their adult children, who have also been active supporters helping to keep this community strong,” Kaufman added.
Federation President Doug Weiland noted that the November event will be the first in-person fundraising event of the community since 2019, when the COVID pandemic put a temporary stop to such gatherings. This year, in addition to raising funds for the delivery of existing Federation programs and services in Pinellas, West Pasco and Hernando counties, the pledge drive will collect funds to support LiveSecure, a new initiative through Jewish Federations of North America. The program aims to ensure the security and resiliency of Jewish communities. With LiveSecure matching funds raised dollar for dollar, local Federations will be able to provide the training, tools, and resources needed to protect those inside our synagogues and other Jewish institutions in the tri-county area.
Weiland explained, “The security program will involve working with SCN – The Secure Community Network – to employ a central security professional, who will advise us on how to proceed with organizing the safety of all Jewish places, be they synagogues, Hillels, Chabads, or day schools. We will have more details and know a lot more about it in the fullness of time, once we have our expert on board.”
It is hoped $1,000,000 can be raised to ensure a robust start to the security initiative and support for ongoing programs. Said Weiland, “Sadly, around the country in the last few years we’ve seen attacks on synagogues by gunmen that have resulted in deaths. We, as a group, are concerned that the Jewish population and Jewish institutions in our three counties may be vulnerable to attack and injury, and so we're stepping up our mission to include, both, enhancing the physical security of Jewish institutions within our area and fighting antisemitism.”
Journalist Mark Oppenheimer, former host of the popular Jewish-themed podcast Unorthodox, and author of Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood will be the evening’s keynote speaker. For Kaufman, the Pittsburgh shooting was somewhat personal. “I lived in Squirrel Hill, very close to the Tree of Life synagogue, and I knew two of the men who were killed,” Kaufman said. “The tragedy rocked that community but also brought them closer together and stronger. It's a community similar to Florida's Gulf Coast,” Kaufman continued. “We’re a little bit more spread out, but in both cases, the Jewish community is small, but strong. When I heard about this book and this speaker, it seemed like a perfect fit. We must secure our community, but we can’t be afraid. It should be an inspiring evening.”
Members of the community are encouraged to attend, or pledge what they can to honor the Benstocks and ensure the success of the new LiveSecure initiative, which will benefit the entire community.