For Gary Weiss, being honored with the Irv Shuman Award is a bit overwhelming. “I know what Irv Shuman meant to this community, and I know who has been awarded this before me, and it’s humbling to be on that list. I’m very honored,” he says.
Shuman, a former president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and a Phoenix community leader for close to 50 years, was murdered in 2008.
Weiss, who is a managing director and senior vice president of Weiss Wealth Strategies of Raymond James in Scottsdale, will accept the award at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center Casino Night on Oct. 17 (see details box). The Western-themed event will take place “under the stars” on the soccer fields of the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus.
Growing up in the Valley, Weiss learned early on that engaging in Jewish community life was important. “My parents were always involved, whether it be financially or serving on committees or other things they did. They taught my brother, sister and me that it’s a Jew’s responsibility to support the community in any way you can,” he says.
His own community involvement began in 1997 when he was recruited to be on the initial board of the Young Leadership Division (YLD) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and served as vice president of community service.
Through his YLD experience, Weiss learned about all the different agencies of the federation and in 1999, when planning began for the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center, he was asked to serve on the board. “I wanted to be a part of that,” he says. “It was exciting.”
For the next 14 years, Weiss served in various capacities on the JCC board, including board chairman in 2006-2007. “When they asked me to be chairman, I was somewhat surprised. I thought I was young and not quite ready, but they wanted youth. It was a great experience,” he says. In 2007, Weiss received the federation’s Sy Clark Award for Outstanding Young Leadership.
While he was chairman, VOSJCC hosted the Maccabi Games, which Weiss marks as his proudest moment as a community volunteer. “It was the community we all strive for – everybody pulling together for one common goal selflessly,” he says. “It was beautiful to see. I hope we do it again.” Hosting the Maccabi Games and the community spirit that accompanied it shows the potential of the Valley Jewish community, Weiss says. “Whether your passion is Pardes Jewish Day School or Council For Jews With Special Needs ... there’s something for everybody to get involved in. We all want the same things – we all want a cohesive, thriving community that’s full of Jewish life,” he says.
Weiss also served on the task force that created the Jewish Community Association (JCA) and helped the JCA and VOSJCC “combine back offices,” before taking a hiatus. He’s now going back on the JCC board and will be able to lend some institutional memory, he says.
Through his work in the community, Weiss met and married Temple Chai member Debbie Berkowitz. They have five children between them, ages 12-20, and the whole mishpacha have been involved in community service, Jewish and secular. Berkowitz was the 2012 recipient of the Lee Amada Young Leadership Award for her work in the community, which includes being a member of the federation’s Women’s Philanthropy Board and a charter member of the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center. Their children have been involved with Temple Chai Temple Youth (TCTY), National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), B’nai Tzedek, Camp Swift and Students Supporting Brain Tumor Research.
“I think we’re rubbing off on them,” Weiss says. “I hope so. We try very hard.”
Who: Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center
What: Casino Night 2015
When: 6-11:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17
Where: VOSJCC, 12701 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Cost: $150, includes buffet dinner, drinks and $100 in casino cash