As promised last week, a continuation of the biographies of the well-deserved 8 over 80 honorees, who were feted at Beth-El Congregation April 18.
Marcia Pozez Kornbleet Kurtz, 80, has many callings. She’s a gourmet chef who shows aspiring cooks how to roll strudel, stuff cabbage, bake baklava and experiment with French, Italian and Sephardic cuisine. She’s a fundraiser who enjoys the “challenge” of soliciting donations for causes she believes in, such as the Jewish Federation, Hadassah, Israel Bonds, and the Texas Democratic Party.
She’s an organizer, whose family foundation created TCU’s Gates of Chai lecture series, which brought to Fort Worth Nobel Laureate Ellie Wiesel and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Chaim Potok.
A friend to the end, for 30 years Kurtz has been part of the Ladies Chevra Kadisha, the burial society with Biblical origins that prepares the dearly departed for the grave. Kurtz’s life is one mitzvah after another. Born in 1934 in Topeka, Kansas, then a town with 50 Jewish families among a population of 100,000, Kurtz was the third of four siblings. Her household nearly doubled in 1939 when her father obtained immigration visas for two cousins and two aunts in Brest-Litovsk.
Although Kurtz’s dad had visas for 13 more relatives, he could not persuade them to flee before Hitler’s invasion. Kurtz’s crowded household in Kansas and the Holocaust in Europe deepened her empathy and concern for others. Kurtz moved to Fort Worth in 1959 with her late husband, Larry Kornbleet, who expanded the family’s Payless Shoes chain across the state.
The couple joined Ahavath Sholom and was delighted when, during their first High Holidays, Rabbi Isadore Garsek and his wife, Sadye Maye, invited them to their home for dinner. Following that example, Kurtz, too, extends home hospitality to newcomers. In the pre-feminist era, she became active in all the Jewish women’s organizations.
In today’s age of prepared foods, she and her husband, Stan Kurtz, donate dinner parties in their home to raise money at silent auctions — where the bidding often brings in four figures. It was Stan who brought her to Beth-El. The couple, who between them have six children and eight grandchildren, married in 1991.
Adding another Jewish institution to her portfolio was a pleasure for Kurtz, who has become a familiar face at Beth-El. Her activities across the community include the Symphony League, Moncrief Radiation Center, Jewish Family Services, Ladies Auxiliary president 1972-74, B’nai B’rith Person of the Year in 1977, Ladies Chevra Kadisha president in 2009, and previously membership in B’nai B’rith Women, a group of which her mother-in-law was international president. Kurtz’s care and concern for others truly extend from generation to generation.
Rosalyn “Roz” Rosenthal, 90 — Fate and the winds of war brought 18-year-old Rosalyn Gross and 2nd Lt. E.M. “Manny” Rosenthal together in 1942. Side by side they sat in a Trenton, New Jersey, movie theater. The soldier struck up a conversation with the pretty college coed. A courtship ensued.
At war’s end, the couple married and moved to Fort Worth, his hometown, in time to dance at Presentation, a Jewish debutante ball with proceeds earmarked for charity. “Roz” Rosenthal, with her sociable smile and social conscience, has been an integral part of the community ever since. Her mother-in-law advised her, “Join everything, and you won’t be talked about!” She did, and she is talked about, but with accolades as a patron of the arts and an energetic volunteer.
She puts both money and commitment into multiple endeavors such as underwriting the neonatal unit at Cook Children’s Medical Center and the dome of downtown’s Bass Performance Hall. She has worked with Planned Parenthood, Kids Who Care, Historic Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art, Daytimers, and Jewish Family Services. The clarinet chair at the Fort Worth Symphony is endowed in her name. She opens her house for intimate concerts and major fundraisers. Her family gave land and energy toward the construction of this synagogue, fostering an esprit de corps within the congregation.
Roz Rosenthal wasn’t always at the forefront. In 1961, when the local section of the National Council of Jewish Women nominated her for president, she demurred and asked Rabbi Bob Schur’s advice. He compared her qualms to The Little Engine that Could, a children’s book about a female locomotive that pulls a heavy trainload of goods and repeats the mantra, “I think I can, I think I can.”
That story, with its lessons of optimism and hard work, became the theme of her presidency and a blueprint for the rest of her life. In 1965, when Manny’s meat company tottered near bankruptcy, she dropped her volunteer work and went to work in the family business.
With Roz running the invoice department, Standard Meat Co. grew into a national restaurant supplier. She and Manny never forgot those who lent support as they rebuilt the business. They repaid the community a thousandfold with their philanthropy. Manny’s health began to decline in the 1990s. He died in 2001. Again, Roz Rosenthal became The Little Engine that Could, emerging as family spokeswoman, leading others to complete major tasks for the betterment of the community. In 1998, she spearheaded formation of Texas Christian University’s Jewish Studies Program with a lead-off gift to endow a professor’s chair. That gift spurred others to give, spawning multiple endowed programs, enriching the community and campus. In recent years, heart surgery rejuvenated her.
Today at age 90, this great-grandmother has a full schedule, packed with concerts, meetings, receptions, a weekly mah jongg game with “the girls,” and frequent get-togethers with extended family. She remains The Little Engine that Could, with optimism and hard work propelling her forward.
Paul Schwartz, 94 — Paul Schwartz’s first bar mitzvah, at a one-room synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side, was conducted before a congregation of 10 men, including his dad, who took him to school after he read from the Torah. Schwartz’s second bar mitzvah, 70 years later, was at Beth-El in 2003 before a full house of friends and family who celebrated the accomplishments of this Romanian immigrant who grew up in an Orthodox home, learned English as a youngster, earned an engineering degree from the University of Texas, spent his professional career with the Army Corps of Engineers, served as Temple president, and for years was Beth-El’s official photographer.
His term as congregation president in 1973 and 1974 was hardly all smiles. He faced a revenue shortfall of $27,000. As both president and engineer-in-chief, he grew concerned as groundwater seeped into the Temple’s foundation, eroding plaster walls.
The kitchen, with its outdated appliances, needed overhauling. So did the Steinway grand piano. To top off these travails, this was the era of Watergate, the Arab oil boycott and an energy crisis. As utilities rose 30 percent, the compressor at the Temple broke. So did the boiler. Fate intervened in the form of a $50,000 bequest from the estate of Mary Potishman Lard.
To stretch that gift to its fullest extent, Schwartz and his board prioritized and economized. Leaks and utilities were fixed, offices remodeled, fresh paint applied downstairs in the parlor and upstairs in the classrooms. The board hired an executive secretary for the Temple and instituted a personnel practices policy. Schwartz capped his term by awarding “amnesty” to congregants with overdue library books.
At the age of 94, Schwartz still speaks with a trace of the Bronx in his voice. It was the Air Force that brought him to Texas during World War II. At a dance in Austin sponsored by the Jewish Welfare Board, he met Margot Rosenthal, a German immigrant, who became his lifelong love and partner at Beth-El until her death in 2006.
He was Brotherhood president in 1958-59; a decade later, she was Sisterhood president. Friday Shabbat services at the Temple were part of the rhythm of their married life. So were Sundays, bringing two children to religious school and socializing with parents, teachers, and staff.
During the High Holidays, they turned their home into a hotel for the family of Nathan and Marie Cedars, who commuted from Stephenville, 90 miles away. Among Schwartz’s hobbies are photography, bridge, and music — digital and acoustic. In the formative years of the Fort Worth Symphony and the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, Schwartz and Margot were involved at the grassroots level. At Beth-El, they befriended the organists and vocalists in the Temple choir. As Schwartz enjoys his six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, the melody lingers on.
Evelyn Lifchez Siegel, 87 — Evelyn Lifchez Siegel grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home where a constant in the kitchen, aside from kosher food, was the blue tzedakah box that rested on a shelf above the stove. Everyone dropped coins into the blue box on Shabbat or whenever something good happened.
That lesson extended to the way she lives her life. A creative child who liked to play with mud, Siegel began shaping and firing clay pots in elementary school. When she was 18, she turned the back porch of her home in Columbia, South Carolina, into a studio where youngsters came for art lessons, paying 50 cents a class. She met Martin Siegel Oct. 4, 1948, when he stopped by her house after a Yom Kippur break-the-fast to pick up his cousin, Siegel’s sorority sister. Martin had previously spotted Siegel from afar and had asked a friend, “Who is that girl in the pink suit?”
They married Jan. 7, 1950. After the honeymoon, they moved to Mineral Wells, where his family was setting up a plant to manufacture ammunition cases for the military. The newlyweds gravitated to Fort Worth, the nearest Jewish community. Siegel became friends with a circle of young brides, each with a social conscience and membership in the National Council of Jewish Women. Assigned to find a worthy project for $35,000 from the Council’s 1965 treasury, Siegel investigated how to help the elderly.
The Community Council, forerunner to the United Way, suggested a “loan closet” stocked with wheel chairs and crutches. Siegel had a larger vision. After attending a White House Conference on Aging, she helped launch the city’s first senior citizens drop-in center. She became president of Senior Citizens Services of Tarrant County — today a multimillion-dollar agency with 28 senior centers, a central kitchen, a transportation network, and a cadre of several thousand volunteers over age 70.
Meanwhile, Siegel was infusing Fort Worth with her love of art. With fabric, crayon, and scissors, she made challah covers that preschoolers decorated as they learned about Shabbat. At Beth-El, an alcove with a table and stools became the Temple’s first art classroom, with Siegel as teacher. That cramped creative space grew into the well-equipped art room at today’s Beth-El, adding dimensions to religious learning.
From 1966 to 1984, Siegel was the art teacher at Country Day, where her four sons and later her grandchildren went to school. For 22 years she operated the Evelyn Siegel Art Gallery.
One day a week, she taught at Fort Worth Hebrew Day School. For many years, Siegel served on Beth-El’s Religious School Committee. Two years ago, Siegel began her first term on Beth-El’s board. At age 87, why does she continue giving her time, talents, and coins to causes she believes in? Her answer: “It must have been the blue box.”