In 2019, we published our first “Tikkun Olam Top Ten.” We are continuing the tradition with what we intend to be an annual homage to the people in our community who embrace the true meaning of tikkun olam and work to make the world a better place.
These are people who, outside of their professional careers, make sacrifices and contribute their time and other resources to help not only the Jewish community flourish, but society as a whole.
We know that there are many people out there doing wonderful things, especially during this challenging time, but here is our list of unsung heroes, influencers and changemakers for 2020.
Chairman of the board of Scottsdale Community Bank, Arizona’s first new community bank in 12 years, is just one more title that George Weisz can add to his extensive list of business accomplishments. These include co-owner of two minor league baseball teams, a partner in a start-up technology firm, government affairs consultant, interests in the film industry, biotechnology and other ventures.
George’s public service includes serving as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to two governors, senior advisor to the mayor of Phoenix, and special agent investigating organized crime and corruption for four attorneys general. George was also an original member of the team that investigated Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles’ murder from a car bombing.
He has served on the boards of numerous charitable and civic organizations and has been recognized with some of those organizations’ highest awards. George’s involvement includes the Anti-Defamation League Board, serving on the National Council of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, serving as President of the 100 Club, which provides resources for the families of fallen police officers and firefighters, serving on the Board of the Arizona Foundation for the Handicapped, being a member of the Governor’s Commission on Adolescent Suicide, being appointed by the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court to serve on the prestigious Arizona Judicial Council and establishing the Grand Canyon State Games.
Step Up to Justice is a full-service free civil legal center for low-income individuals and families in Pima County. A public service by private citizens, SU2J harnesses the energy of volunteer attorneys and channels that resource to members of the community such as the working poor, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities who need but cannot afford legal services.
In 2019, Melissa Spiller-Shiner was selected to serve as associate director of SU2J. In this capacity, she works with the executive director and the board of directors to develop and implement the vision and direction for SU2J.
Melissa has worked in civil legal services since 2010. She has a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Binghamton University, a Master of Arts in ethics, peace and global affairs from American University, and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Arizona.
Prior to joining SU2J, Melissa worked as a staff attorney at another Tucson-based civil legal services provider, Southern Arizona Legal Aid, Inc., in their consumer, housing and public benefits unit, assisting low-income clients with landlord/tenant and bankruptcy matters. She then moved to the organization’s Volunteer Lawyers Program as their staff attorney and law student coordinator. Melissa managed the student-based clinics – an opportunity that allowed her to get to know more than 100 student volunteers each year.
Before her current position, Melissa was the director of community outreach for SU2J and was responsible for recruiting and training volunteer law students, coordinating and managing off-site clinics, and reaching out to various community partners to build and maintain relationships.
Eddie Chavez Calderon is a social justice activist and the campaign organizer for Arizona Jews for Justice and Uri L’Tzedek. Arizona Jews for Justice is the fastest-growing Jewish social justice organization in the Southwest.
Born in Michoacán, Mexico, Eddie’s family arrived in the United States when he was four years old. He is a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, and since he was a teenager, he has been deeply involved in social justice work.
He continues to fight for the Latino community as well as LGBTQ+ acceptance and inclusion, woman’s rights, economic justice, workers’ rights, citizenship and civic engagement, voter equality and much more.
Eddie worked to educate, engage and register young voters before the election, even leading a team to send texts to 50,000 people. All this work to protect people’s right to vote, something he couldn’t even participate in due to his current citizenship status.
In the last year and a half, Arizona Jews for Justice has directly impacted the lives of 40,000 asylum seekers through donations of food, clothes, medical supplies and toys. Through their grassroots efforts, they’ve been able to create a pipeline of volunteers from all over the community (and the country) to step up and do the difficult work to help asylum seekers during their most pressing hour of need.
Eddie believes he has both a humanitarian responsibility to provide for asylum seekers and a personal need to help them.
Beth Jo Zeitzer is involved with organizations to ensure an enduring legacy for the Jewish community. She is a past board chair of the Jewish Community Foundation and sits on the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix board and has been involved with its NowGen program.
In the broader community, Beth Jo takes part in professional groups like Arizona Commercial Real Estate Women and the Arizona Trustee Association.
She is a licensed attorney in Arizona and California and president and designated broker of R.O.I. Properties, a full-service commercial and residential brokerage firm. Beth Jo started R.O.I. Properties in 2003 and is experienced in commercial development, including planning, entitlement, infrastructure delivery, budgeting and financial oversight, marketing analysis, sales and marketing, contract negotiation, design review and construction monitoring.
An Arizona resident since 1971, Beth Jo graduated from Central High School in Phoenix and attended the University of Arizona before heading over to the University of San Diego Law School.
In 2013, AZ Business Magazine named Beth Jo as one of Arizona business’s most influential women. She was also one of the state’s highest-ranked women in business and featured on the cover of Who’s Who in Business, May 2016. She looks for ways to share her knowledge and experience with other women in her field and makes it a point to mentor women in the commercial real estate community.
After decades of working in philanthropy, marketing communications, nonprofit management and communal service, Stu came to the Valley in 2006 to join the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, where he worked tirelessly to strengthen local Jewish nonprofits. He retired from JCF as president and CEO in 2013 and joined Radio Phoenix in May 2016.
Stu started his broadcast career in college at radio station WCMO-FM in Ohio. During the Vietnam War, he joined the Army and graduated from the military broadcast journalism program at the Department of Defense Information School in Indianapolis. He was news director for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service on Johnston Island in the Pacific, broadcasting on both radio and TV.
Today, you can find Stu weekly on Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 7 pm hosting The Phoenix File, broadcast on Radio Phoenix, where he engages guests in compelling conversations about the people and programs making a positive difference around the Valley.
Stu has provided fundraising consultation to numerous non-profit organizations (which he continues to do in his retirement) and has been a frequent speaker on philanthropy, strategic positioning and child advocacy in the nonprofit sector. He has produced more than a dozen record albums, which have raised millions of dollars to benefit pediatric hospitals in North America and was a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the Children’s Miracle Network Telethon.
Throughout his career, Stu has led professional fundraising organizations to raise nearly $1 billion.
Working as a kindergarten teacher when her father passed, Judy Laufer was looking to help her niece better understand what happened. When she couldn’t find any books at the library for young children about a person dying, she decided to write her own. Where Did Papa Go was the first book she published as J.E. Laufer under Little Egg Publishing (a nod to her maiden name, Egett).
In her next book, Last Night I had a Laughmare, Judy introduced the characters of the town of Gigglyville, turning another difficult situation for children – nightmares – into a positive.
Judy has written five books for young children, and in 2017, she ventured into the young adult genre.
Choices, The True Story of One Family’s Daring Escape to Freedom is the true story of Judy’s mother, Kati Egett, who escaped communist Hungary with her family to find a home in Canada when Judy was almost two years old.
After the popularity of Choices, Judy decided to write the story of her mother-in-law, Pearl, who was a hidden child during the Holocaust. Hidden Pearl: A Story About Courage, Hope and Resilience was published in 2019 and won the 2019 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award gold medal in the Pre-Teen Fiction-Historical/Cultural category.
With the help of corporate partners and individual sponsors, Little Egg Publishing has donated thousands of books to children’s charities to promote childhood literacy.
Dr. Eric Schindler received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Arizona in 1982. After internship training in child and family psychology at U.C. Davis and postdoctoral training in pediatric psychology in Chicago, he spent more than 30 years working in the Tucson community as an administrator, director, teacher and practitioner. A licensed psychologist since 1984, he also served as an adjunct instructor in Family Studies at the University of Arizona for many years.
Since 2005, Dr. Schindler has been the President and CEO for Child & Family Resources, Inc. Child & Family Resources is a private, community-based, nonprofit organization with a long history of serving children, youth and families, addressing unmet needs and gaps in social services. The agency was originally known as The Tucson Association for Child Care in 1970.
The agency offers programming for childcare professionals, families, parents, guardians, mentors and school-age children. The goal is to build healthy communities where children can reach their full potential. They achieve this goal by using effective prevention and education strategies with families, teens and early educators.
Child & Family Resources employs more than 300 people in Apache Junction, Bullhead City, Casa Grande, Douglas, Kingman, Lake Havasu City, Nogales, Phoenix, Safford, Sierra Vista, Tucson, and Yuma.
In the “about” part of Robin Meyerson’s LinkedIn profile, the last line states, “Today my focus is on kiruv.” Kiruv is the act or practice of bringing secularized Jews closer to Judaism.
Everything that Robin is involved with does just that. She is a motivational speaker, teacher, author and the co-director of Project Inspire Arizona. Project Inspire’s mission is to “create a dedicated group of men and women that grow together with their fellow Jews through learning, social programs and trips to Israel.” Project Inspire has also partnered with MyZuzah to ensure that every Jewish home has a mezuzah – free of charge – that Robin delivers to homes across the Valley.
She also chairs the Shabbat Project Arizona, which hosts the annual Great AZ Challah Bake, joining women across the state, and the world, together to do the mitzvah of making challah.
Over the last decade, Robin has become involved with chevra kadisha – a group of committed Jews who prepare the body for burial and perform tahara, or ritual purification. This involvement led her to become the West Coast director for the National Association of Chevra Kadisha.
Robin also has a nonprofit, Peaceful Return (peacefulreturn.org), that “is dedicated to sharing information about the importance and beauty of burial.”
She has done extensive research, given speeches, written brochures and has co-written a book called, From This World to the Next: Amazing True Stories about Jewish Burial and the Afterlife, which shares stories highlighting the wonders of Jewish burial.
Bob Roth is the managing partner of Cypress HomeCare Solutions, a company created in 1994 after his family became caregivers for their mother, Joan S. Roth, in the last 18 years of her life.
Cypress is the only home care agency in Maricopa County to provide high-quality in-house training in the Joan S. Roth Caregiver Training Lab, their state-of-the-art training lab named in honor of his mother. Over 12 years, they have trained nearly 1,000 families with free family caregiving seminars.
In 2017, Bob was appointed to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey; this was the first time in the council’s history that a home care or home health care agency owner or manager has served on the council.
Bob is highly involved in the local community. Some of his past and present service positions include Arizona Geriatric Society, Taskforce Against Senior Abuse, Banner Alzheimer’s Foundation, Banner Health Foundation, Alzheimer’s Association, Governor’s Advisory Council on Aging, Aging 2.0 (Phoenix chapter), DUET Partners in Aging and many others. Nationally, Bob serves on the Board of Directors for the Home Care Association of America.
He also regularly writes columns for local publications on aging topics and hosts a radio show called “Health Futures, Taking Stock in You.” This program airs every Friday from noon to 1 pm on Money Radio 1510 AM, 105.3 FM.
In 2018, Karolyn Benger created KB Enterprise after organizations sought out her help for projects. She is a consultant to nonprofit organizations and small businesses, assisting them in achieving their goals with her many years of experience in membership and recruiting, grant writing, programming and fundraising.
Before starting her own business, Karolyn was the founding executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Phoenix and served as the executive director of the Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta.
Karolyn is a graduate of Emory University with a degree in political science and a specialization in the Middle East, where she studied social movements, organizational development and Arab and Islamist opposition groups. She has taught courses in Comparative Politics, Political Islam, and Politics of the Middle East at Emory University, Georgia Tech and Emerson College.
She is passionate about interfaith dialogue, race relations, and the peace and security of minority communities. As a public speaker and author, she has addressed social movements, democratization in the Middle East, Islamist organizations, anti-Semitism, Orthodox Judaism and women in Islam.
Karolyn is a member of the Phoenix Police Department Community Relations Advisory Board, the Arizona Interfaith Movement and the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. Her volunteer work includes the East Valley JCC, Arizona Faith Network, Phoenix Hebrew Academy and Jewish Women’s Leadership Institute.
Her latest project is as a board member of The Albert Einstein Academy, which will offer a STEAM-based (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) education and a focus on languages including Hebrew and Arabic. Currently, no other public schools are offering these languages. The school is scheduled to open in August 2021.