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2014-03-28 digital edition

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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.


March 28, 2014  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

JNF to honor 6 local leaders at Tree of Life dinner

Jewish National Fund (JNF) will honor six leaders in the Tampa Bay Jewish community at its annual Tree of LifeTM Award Dinner on Tuesday, April 8 at 6 p.m. at Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, 2900 Bayport Drive, Tampa.

Janie and Marty Borell, Kathy and Mike Sobel, and Bob Gries will receive the Tree of Life Award and Amy Wasser will be presented with the Lawrence D. Wasser Humanitarian Award.

The dinner has been designated as the “Jewish National Fund Tampa Bay Tree of Life Award Dinner Forever Endowed by Harvey Hertz” after a $1 million endowment from local philanthropist and longtime JNF supporter Harvey Hertz.

One of Hertz’s fondest memories was planting trees on Israel soil in the JNF forest during his mission to Israel. He was deeply saddened when fires raged in Israel’s Carmel Mountains in December 2010, causing loss of life, dislocation of many families and the destruction of trees. In 2011, Hertz donated $1 million to JNF to help repair the damage to the forest and JNF established the Harvey Hertz Ceremonial Tree Planting Center at Neot Kedumin in Israel.

Russell Robinson Russell Robinson This year, Hertz permanently endowed the Tree of Life award dinner in Tampa Bay. He hopes that this new gift will inspire others to follow in his footsteps. A portion of the endowment will be dedicated to broadening the horizons of young professionals in the Jewish community. “We salute Harvey Hertz for the enormous generosity he has shown to JNF, Israel, and the Tampa Bay Community,” said Uri Smajovits, JNF director of Northern Florida.

Keynote speaker

Russell Robinson, the youngest CEO in JNF’s history, will be the keynote speaker for the Tampa Bay Tree of Life Dinner.

He has held the post since 1998, working tirelessly, traveling around the country and visiting Israel almost every month, to ensure JNF’s vision is more relevant and meaningful today than ever before.

Under Robinson’s direction, JNF is one of the most recognized non-profits for its work, cultivation of a younger donor population, business management, financial integrity and volunteer involvement.

Robinson is a sixth generation American Jew. His family first laid down its American roots in Petersburg, VA after emigrating from Alsace Lorraine in the late 1700s.

Tree of Life Award

The Tree of Life Award is a humanitarian award given in recognition of outstanding community involvement, dedication to the cause of American-Israeli friendship, and devotion to peace and security of human life. Here are profiles of the recipients:

Janie and Marty Borell

The couple met 14 years ago on a blind date and married in 2002. They both grew up on Long Island, NY.

A founding member and active congregant of Temple Ahavat Shalom, Janie’s career includes counseling, network marketing, and yoga instruction.

Marty retired in 2002 as a managing partner with Accenture. He has been the board chair of the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg for the past five years while Janie has been co-chair of the Museum’s Women of Conscience Committee. Together they actively support JNF, the Jewish Federation, Israel Bonds, AIPAC, the Florida Orchestra, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, the Kids Place, Chabad of South Tampa, Hillel of the Florida Suncoast and Congregation Schaarai Zedek. Their children are Jon and Emily Borell, Stacy Borell (of blessed memory), Erik and Melanie Fischer, and Carly Fischer.

Mike and Kathy Sobel

This couple met in Clearwater and married in 1983. Since then they have impacted many organizations with their generous gifts of time and money and believe that giving back to their community is the cornerstone of their lives.

Mike has served as president and board member of Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater for the past 10 years and on the boards of JNF, Israel Bonds and the Florida Holocaust Museum. Mike is a past president of Golda Meir/Kent Jewish Center and currently serves as president-elect of the Jewish Cultural Endowment. Today, he is a senior vice-president/investments, custom portfolio manager for Morgan Stanley.

Kathy has served on the Beth Shalom board of trustees for the past four years. She is a past board member of the CBS Sisterhood, Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services Resource Committee, and supporter of Jewish Federation Women’s Division and Hadassah’s Keeper of the Gate

Bob Gries

Bob is the founding member and current managing director of The Gries Investment Funds. Prior to the fund’s inception in 2005, he was a private mezzanine lender and financed a variety of loans for public and private companies, real estate projects and several professional sports franchises. He currently sits on various corporate boards, including the University of Tampa, Berkeley Preparatory School, and the USA Volleyball Foundation.

Bob’s involvement and enthusiasm for the athletic industry stems to his family’s partial ownership of the Cleveland Browns from 1936- 1996. He is the former majority owner, president and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Storm Arena Football franchise, which he owned from 1991-1994.

Larry Wasser award

JNF will also present the Lawrence D. Wasser Humanitarian Award to Amy Wasser at the award dinner. JNF established the award to commemorate the extraordinary communal work of Lawrence “Larry” D. Wasser, of blessed memory. Wasser diligently and tirelessly served the community for years first as JNF Florida southern regional director for several states and later as executive director of the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. This honor is awarded annually to a non-profit professional who has exhibited traits and attributes of leadership excellence.

Amy Wasser

After joining the staff of Hillel Academy in Tampa, in 1996, Amy became the head of school in 2004. Working with children and helping to instill in them a love of Judaism has always been at the forefront of her work. A past director of USY on Wheels and a staff member at Camp Ramah Darom since 1996, she continues to bring her unique mix of formal and informal educational skills to the enhancement of Hillel Academy.

Israel education is a primary love of hers. She introduced the eighth grade Israel trip to Hillel more than 17 years ago. She serves as an accreditation chair for the Florida Council of Independent Schools and is on the editorial board for the national publication Hayidion of the Community Jewish Day School network. Amy has been a member of Congregation Kol Ami for more than 18 years. She has three children, all alumni of the day school and Camp Ramah.


Tickets start at $250 per person. To RSVP, email or call (561) 447-9733. For more information, contact Smajovits at (727) 536-5263 or email

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