By Sharon Wisch-Ray
We have always covered the Isadore Garsek Lodge B’nai B’rith Lodge #256 Person of the Year Award dinner. However, it’s been quite some time since I attended the event personally. I was looking forward to seeing old friends, not to mention sampling the Riscky’s Barbecue. As I drove over, I contemplated how amazing it is that the Fort Worth and Tarrant County Jewish community can keep this amazing secret….revealing the Person of the Year in a “This is Your Life” fashion, and not leaking the winner beforehand. Let’s face it, we are not the best secret keepers.
The excitement was building for me, as I approached Beth-El Congregation. I knew I’d made the right decision to attend the dinner when I saw my good friend Carole Rogers saunter in behind me. She seemed genuinely excited to see me too, and in typical Carole fashion, she made sure I had a place to sit, up front.
The evening was underway. Master of ceremonies Jeff Kaitcer, a former Person of the Year honoree himself, kept the night moving. Garsek Lodge President Harry Kahn (another former honoree) led the full house in a moment of silence for those members of the community who had died in the last year. The Pledge of Allegiance was then recited. Congregation Ahavath Sholom Rabbi Andrew Bloom gave the invocation and HaMotzi and Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger (yet another past honoree) of Beth-El Congregation delivered the benediction.
New Federation Executive Director Bob Goldberg shared some thoughts about the importance of maintaining a thriving Jewish community in Fort Worth and Tarrant County. Goldberg, who hails from Omaha, Neb., shared how B’nai B’rith helped shape his Jewish life and identity. He explained that many a Jewish community dinner was planned in his living room growing up, as his dad was co-chair of the B’nai B’rith community event in Omaha. It was by his dad’s example that he learned what it means to be a member of the Jewish community. “Giving back and working to better the community is just what we do,” he said. “He was and is my model. Those B’nai B’rith banquets that I attended in my young eyes were the greatest show of strength for the Jewish people in Omaha Nebraska.”
Goldberg also shared his views about the importance of the Federation in the Jewish community and summed it up simply that on numerous levels, “Federation helps our people.” Goldberg concluded, “We are the handlers of a 5,000-year-old tradition, it is our responsibility to write the next chapter.”
In the next portion of the program, Robert Chicotsky announced the three academic scholarship award winners: Josh Cristol, son of Rebecca and Louis Cristol of Fort Worth; Sarah Rothschild, daughter of Michele and Jeff Rothschild of Arlington and Cooper Simon, son of Sherry and Neil Simon of Keller. Josh is attending the University of Texas where he is studying engineering. Sarah Rothschild is studying broadcast journalism at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. Cooper is studying technical theatre with a concentration in lighting design at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Each recipient was awarded $500.
The big moment arrived and Alex Nason, last year’s winner, began the narrative revealing this year’s winner. Early on it was clear that this year’s Person of the Year is Jewish Family Services’ Dr. Carole Rogers. Carole moved to Fort Worth in 1999, not long after completing her doctorate in psychology at Baylor and a stint with the Texas Youth Commission. A native of New Jersey, Carole quickly adapted to Texas and made Fort Worth her home. I was privileged to meet Carole before her move to Fort Worth in a women’s basketball league at the Dallas JCC. A better teammate, a person couldn’t ask for. I was fortunate to experience Carole’s kindness firsthand when she reached out to my mother, Rene, after my father, Jimmy, died in 2002. Mom came to love Carole as another daughter, which I imagine is a sentiment shared by many in Fort Worth. They were so close.
Over the years, Carole and her able team have raised the level of services and programming at JFS to new heights. She is generous to a fault at times with her time and resources.
Perhaps the most moving part of the evening was when Mary Frances Antweil read a letter from Carole’s mom, Anita Dellal.
“You are a person of integrity, you are a person whom I respect, and a person on whom I can rely, I’m sure that those in your community feel the same way about you,” wrote Dellal.
But, it was Carole’s own words that resonated so deeply with me.
“I never expected to be able to do the work that I loved to do and be part of a community that I love at the same time. This community is so caring and so warm and has been very, very accepting of me. You’ve allowed me to do good work, quality work and be the person I am and maintain integrity and that doesn’t happen very often in very many places. So I thank all of you,” said Carole.
It seems apropos that this week’s d’var Torah (find it on p. 16), written so beautifully by Rabbi Dan Lewin is about how the way a person deals with success lends insight into their nature. He opens his column with, “One’s true character is perhaps more evident after success, when she or he emerges on top,” and concludes with the idea that the true measure of a person is evident when their success leads them to be more humble. That modesty, Lewin writes, brings a person closer to God.
“You don’t receive an award like this without standing on the shoulders of many, many people,” said Carole.
If you know her, then you know that despite her many good deeds carried out on a daily basis, Carole probably didn’t even make her own list of candidates for this year’s Person of the Year. I cannot think of a more deserving person, and I am so thankful that I was there to see it in person.