When the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey (JHS) asked Thelma Florin to be its guest of honor at the organization’s 38th annual Lasting Impressions Gala on Wednesday, May 9, she said “no” — twice.
“I was shocked when they asked me to be honored because I felt there were many people who deserved it more than I did,” Florin, a resident of West Orange, told NJJN.
Then, she said, Warren Grover, a JHS past president, told her, “‘Thelma, we want someone from our own organization to be honored. You have done so much for everybody. Please accept.’ So I did.”
JHS executive director Linda Forgosh said that at the age of 81, Florin is an embodiment of Jewish community activism. “The extent and breadth of her activities were striking to me,” said Forgosh. “We recognize her for everything she does that represents tikkun olam.”
Florin and her husband, Richard, moved to West Orange after marrying in 1957. She quickly became involved in the local Jewish community while teaching second grade at the Newstead School in South Orange. Later she became a special education teacher at what was then called Roosevelt Junior High School in West Orange, now Roosevelt Middle School. The couple has two children and five grandchildren.
A year after moving to the area, Florin received a call from a representative of what was then the Jewish Federation of Essex County, a forerunner of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, asking her to chair its Women’s Division. She agreed, and her involvement has grown since.
She has served, among other roles, as chair of the Rachel Coalition, JCC MetroWest, and Daughters of Israel senior facility, and as a board member of, besides JHS, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, where she is a member, and, for a time, NJJN.
Florin said she takes special pride in her work with the coalition, a division of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest (JFS) that provides assistance to victims of domestic violence. “I was always involved in women’s lib, and when I heard about Rachel Coalition starting up,” she quickly offered support.
Among those who will salute Florin from the podium will be B’nai Jeshurun’s Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz, and Reuben Rotman, CEO of the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies who served as JFS executive director for 11 years until last May.