- December 1, 2010
Whether she was conducting the choir at Temple Beth Israel, volunteering at Jewish Family & Children’s Service, meeting with friends or running errands, Florence Weisblat Katz was never seen without heels.
“She loved dressing up,” Judy Vigder, Katz’s daughter, said. “As a little girl, she only had one pair of shoes for a short period of time, some boots. When she became an adult and could wear heels, she went crazy. She always got dressed up, putting on her little pearls and high heels, no matter where she went.”
Katz, 100, of Sarasota, died Dec. 26.
She wore size 6 1/2 narrow shoes and stood just 4 feet, 8 inches tall. But the size of the crowd — nearly 300 — at her service Dec. 30, at Temple Beth Israel, showed the big shoes she left behind to fill.
“Our sanctuary was completely filled,” said Temple Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Katz (no relation). “She is so woven into the fabric of our congregation’s life and history and always will be.”
Katz, a member of Temple Beth Israel since its establishment in 1979, was the temple's first choir director, a position she held for 23 years.
“It was her charismatic personality that drew people to her and her choir, and they were very loyal to the choir for all the years she conducted it,” former Rabbi Michael Eisenstat said. “She’ll always leave that legacy at the temple.”
When Katz wasn’t making music, she was giving back. Up until her last several months, she volunteered twice a week for the Senior Outreach Services (SOS) program at the Jewish Family & Children’s Services in Sarasota, which gives homebound senior citizens the chance to socialize with others on a weekly basis.
“Everything she did, she wanted to make it as nice as possible,” Director of Senior Services Pam Baron said. “She just genuinely cared about what she was doing and had such a respect for helping others. She found a purpose and truly mattered.”
Born July 9, 1915, in the small town of Coshocton, Ohio, Katz graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music from Oberlin College in 1937 and a master’s degree in music from Ohio State University in 1939.
Katz developed a love for music on her sixth birthday, when her father bought her a violin. Her passion for music lasted her whole life.
“She was so talented that she would actually create pieces for our family to play together,” Vigder said. “My father would play the trumpet and saxophone, I played the piano, my brother played drums, and she would play the viola or violin. It was so much fun.” In 2013, Katz was named Florida’s winner of the Salute to Senior Service, an award Home Instead Inc. annually gives to seniors who have had a positive impact on their community.
“She always told me that giving is better than receiving, and she told everyone who would thank her for her service, ‘Oh no, you’re serving me,’” Vigder said. “She felt that every day, she should help somebody, and helping others helped her.”
Through all of her involvements, Katz created bonds and friendships with everyone she met.
“There is no such thing as being just an acquaintance of Florence Katz,” Karen Bokor, Florence’s granddaughter, said. “Everyone was her friend. She made everyone feel like they were important, and when she was with you one-on-one, you never doubted for a minute that she was completely focused on you. She touched everybody in a very special way.”
Along with her heels, Katz was seldom seen without a smile in her 100 years.
“Her ability to always see the bright side of everything was really something,” Helen Sherman, Katz’s friend of almost 20 years, said. “She was a very positive person and knew things were always going to be OK.”
Katz was preceded in death by her husband, Louis, and son, Nathan. She is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Judy and Robert Vigder; daughter-in-law, Denise Katz; five grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, Katz’s family asks donations be made to the Jewish Family & Children’s Service or Temple Beth Israel.