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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


February 28, 2014  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Eight Over 80 honorees share passion for Judaism

By ELANA GOOTSON Jewish Federation staff

They have been called the G.I. Generation, the Traditional Generation or the Builders. But another term that has been applied to them – The Greatest Generation – seems most fitting to the Eight Over 80 group who will be honored by the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties.

As Jews, their experiences are diverse and their beginnings worlds apart, yet they share a fiercely strong and binding common thread. They suffered, they worked hard, and they prospered. They are community-minded, assertive and have absolute standards of right and wrong. They saved the world and built a nation.

“We honor them. We salute them. We are forever grateful to them,” said Toni Rinde, chair of the Eight Over 80 gala to be held Sunday, March 30 at 5 p.m. at the St. Petersburg Coliseum. Cost is $118 and reservations are required by March 14. To purchase tickets, visit or call (727) 530-3223.

Because siblings and couples are counted as one, there are actually 12 individuals who will be honored in the Federation’s inaugural group of Eight over 80. The honores are: Walter Loebenberg, Harold Haftel, Loren and Joy Pollack, Ambassador Melvin and Betty Sembler, Gerald and Joan Benstock, Harvey Hertz, Reva Kent and sisters Marilyn Benjamin and Sonya Miller.

Below are profiles of six of those individuals. Profiles of the others will be in the March 14 issue of the Jewish Press.

Walter Loebenberg

Born in Wachterbacht, Germany, in 1924, Walter and the Loebenberg family escaped Nazi Germany in 1939, not long after after Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) – the wave of violent anti-Jewish took place on Nov. 9-10, 1938. Atpograms which that time, Walter was 14 and went to work at a bakery, only to find it destroyed and a nearby synagogue on fire. The next day he was arrested by the SS, but later released. Although considered by many as lucky because they at least lived, Jews like Walter and his family suffered and lost their homes and businesses, enduring great hardships before immigrating into the United States through Ellis Island. The Loebenbergs eventually settled in Chicago. Walter served in the Army during World War II and became a United States citizen. In 1948, he married fellow holocaust survivor Edith Lowengard and they raised three children. The family moved to St. Petersburg in 1970. Walter designed, constructed, managed and owned health facilities. With his success, he became a significant philanthropist.

Walter and Edie had a desire to tell their story in hopes of ending discrimination and genocide. In the early 1990s the couple began bringing Holocaust expositions to the JCC in Madeira Beach. With community support, what is now the Florida Holocaust Museum was founded in 1997, born around a collection of Holocaust posters Walter acquired. The museum is now one of the largest of its kind in the U.S.

Walter also has contributed his time and and financial support to Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services, Menorah Manor, Israel Bonds, Temple Beth-El and Congregation B’nai Israel. Walter is past chairman of the board of governors of the Anne Frank Center USA in New York. He has also been involved with the Statue of Liberty- Ellis Island Foundation committee.

Harold Haftel

Harold Haftel was born in Brooklyn in 1926. Harold’s parents and two sisters moved to Felmington, NJ, where they had a chicken farm. After studying agriculture in Pennsylvania, Harold was employed by the Department of Agriculture. In the 1960s he was sent to Dunedin to be the inspector of HP Hood & Son’s Orange Juice. Harold brought his parents to Florida and bought land in Tarpon Springs to build a chicken farm for his father, a double amputee, to have something to do. The 40 acres eventually became an orange grove.

Harold was one of the first members of Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater – when services took place in a storefront donated by Rubin Rutenberg – where he remains a member and supporter. Over the years, Harold also supported Temple B’nai Israel.

Harold spent time in Israel on a kibbutz and found his way to the Weitzman Institute of Science. He learned of the amazing new drip irrigation being developed in Israel and used the technology in his own orange grove. The Weizman Insti tute has remained Harold’s passion and he currently sits on the board of directors. The seven-figure financial contributions Harold has made to the Weizman Institute exemplify his passion for Israel and what he calls the world’s “brain power.”

Although he never married, he sowed deep roots within the community, volunteering for the

Rotary Club for nearly 40 years. Harold supports the

Jewish Federation as a major donor and has been a member of B’nai

B’rith and other local Jewish organizations. For the past five years Harold has picked up donated eyeglasses at local libraries to be distributed to people in need.

Loren & Joy Pollack

Loren Pollack was born in Chicago in 1933 and moved to Pinellas County in 1959. Loren’s perspective on life is that people should never become stagnant. He has been involved in growth his entire adult life.

Commercial real estate development and management has been his career and passion. In the 1970s, Loren was on the board of directors of the Jewish Welfare Fund and helped with the development of the public library at Countryside Mall. Loren became active on the Temple B’nai Israel board of directors and ultimately became president of the temple from 1973-1975. Once again he, and a handful of others focused on growth and Loren was the board president when the temple’s new facility was built on Belcher Road.

Loren married Joy in 1992. Their blended family consists of five children. Joy supports Loren’s passion for the Jewish community and has been involved with both Temple B’nai Israel and the Florida Holocaust Museum. They are generous supporters of the Jewish Federation. Loren served on the Federation’s board of directors for many years. He has also generously supported many other Jewish organizations, including Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services, Israel Bonds and served on the Menorah Manor Foundation board. Loren was one of the founding members of B’nai B’rith of Clearwater.

Ambassador Melvin & Bettty Sembler

Melvin (Mel) Sembler was born in 1930 in St. Joseph, MO. As a child his family was always involved in the Jewish community, including being members of all three synagogues in St. Joseph. A self-described “activist,” Mel tells the story of his future wife, Betty Schlesinger, being involved in his senior class presidential campaign at Northwestern University. Mel and Betty moved to Pinellas County in 1968 and immediately became involved in the Jewish community. All three of their sons had their Bar Mitzvahs at Temple Beth-El in St. Petersburg.

Over the 45 years spent in Pinellas County, Mel and Betty have served on the boards of the Florida Holocaust Museum and Menorah Manor and have been members of both Congregation B’nai Israel and Temple Beth-El. Their three sons and respective spouses have emulated their passion for the Jewish community through their significant contributions to the Pinellas County Jewish Day School, TOP Jewish Foundation, Jewish Federation, Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services, the Florida Holocaust Museum and Menorah Manor.

Mel and Betty’s activism reaches beyond the Jewish community and includes significant political involvement as well as long-term efforts against drug abuse in America. As founding members of Straight, Inc., the couple has focused on treatment as well as national drug policy. Mel founded the Sembler Company, a shopping center development and management firm.

Mel and Betty consider themselves part of the international Jewish community. When Mel was an Ambassador of the United States in Australia and Italy, the Semblers were involved in Jewish communities around the world.

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