Honors all around to current and emerging leaders

Josh Gortler, left, stands by the dais to receive his honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University president Richard Joel. (Photo Courtesy YU)

Josh Gortler, left, stands by the dais to receive his honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University president Richard Joel. (Photo Courtesy YU)

By Diana Brement, Jewish Sound Columnist

“Humbling,” is how Seattle’s Joshua Gortler described receiving an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Yeshiva University (YU) May 22. Speaking the week before, he said the most remarkable thing was that this could happen to “an immigrant kid who [came] to this country without a penny.

“What I’ve done [for YU] is not much” compared to what it has done for him, he added.

The former CEO of the Caroline Kline Galland Center was a Holocaust refugee who spent five years in displaced persons camps in Europe before his family settled in Arizona. He attended Yeshiva University’s then-brand-new social work program on a scholarship. Upon his retirement, the Kline Galland board established a scholarship in his name at YU’s Wurzweiler School of Social work to promote entry into geriatric social work.

“There’s such a great need,” in the field, Josh says.

The first scholarship recipient was just announced in a blog post at the Faces@YU blog. Similar to Joshua, Alexander Lukhtman was a refugee whose family fled anti-Semitism in Ukraine when he was 10 years old.

Keeping busy in retirement, Joshua is now running the Kline Galland Foundation, helping to raise money for “developing new programs for the elderly in the greater Seattle area and sustaining the programs that are being cut left and right by our government.”

With our senior population exploding, there are not enough professionals to take care of them, Josh says. Funds are needed for programs and for training those who have not only a commitment to the elderly, but “a commitment to the Jewish community.” Jobs in both fields are challenging, Josh admits. Families “see their parents and grandparents in a way they’ve never seen them before” and there’s no cure. Geriatric workers can only “ease them into the next transition as kindly and gently as possible.”

An active Holocaust speaker and educator who specializes in taking on “the challenging groups,” Joshua has spoken at detention centers and inner-city schools. He spoke recently at Seattle’s Cleveland High School, where about 25 percent of the students are Muslim. A young woman in a head scarf asked about his personal experience of anti-Semitism.

“My talk took a new direction” from there, he says.

He also spoke at the University of Washington on Yom HaShoah this year about his DP camp experience.

“Very little has been written about this,” he says.

• • •

Esther Chiprut will receive a Hadassah Woman of Valor award from her Redmond Ridge group. The award will be given at the group’s annual “game day” fundraiser on Sunday, June 8.

Esther Chiprut, who is being honored by Hadassah of Redmond Ridge. (Photo courtesy Esther Chiprut)

Esther Chiprut, who is being honored by Hadassah of Redmond Ridge. (Photo courtesy Esther Chiprut)

“Overwhelmed,” is how Esther says she felt when she learned of the award. The Seattle native, whose grandfather was a founder of Sephardic Bikur Holim, grew up in the Mt. Baker neighborhood and attended Franklin High School. She worked for many years in the import-export and ocean shipping business, working for Boeing for 19 years before retiring.

A Mah Jongg enthusiast, she began playing at age 40 and doesn’t mind saying that she is 67.

“I feel great,” she says, despite nightly peritoneal dialysis.

A member of Hadassah and City of Hope, Esther is a super-volunteer who has held numerous positions in both groups. She’s currently vice president of membership for both Redmond Ridge Hadassah and the local chapter of City of Hope. She’s served on Hadassah’s Seattle Chapter and Pacific Northwest Region boards and was president of Sabra Hadassah.

All are welcome at the June 8 event, which runs from noon to 4 p.m. at the Trilogy community in Redmond. The $36 admission includes food, wine and games. Advance registration is required by calling Cindy Rubin at 425-898-0308.

• • •

The Brandeis National Committee Presidential Award is given to a student who has been “a significant part of LTS” — Library Technology Services — explains Zelle Rettman, who received that award in April, and just graduated last week from the university. Recipients also exemplify academic achievement and campus leadership.

Nominated by her supervisor and professor, Mark Dellelo, the award focused on Zelle’s (say Zell-ee) work in the school’s Multimedia Getz Lab for the past three years, where she worked her way up from student assistant to marketing manager and technical support specialist. Her experience included working on a film, handling jobs from grip to directing.

A reporter and photographer for two student publications, Zelle played intramural basketball and volleyball, was an admissions tour guide and student orientation leader, and served as a peer counselor and president of STARS, Students Talking About Relationships.

She worked hard, she says, but “I didn’t do it to get an award,” says Zelle. Still, “it’s nice to have that mutual appreciation,” of Professor Dellelo, “who has made my Brandeis career what it was.”

Zelle Rettman. (Photo courtesy Debra Portnoff Rettman)

Zelle Rettman. (Photo courtesy Debra Portnoff Rettman)

She plans to be home in Seattle this summer to enjoy “the non-humid, temperate-climate,” and to look for work in visual media.

The daughter of Debra Portnoff and Peter Rettman, Zelle attended Seattle Hebrew Academy and Northwest Yeshiva High School.




  1. Judith Roberts Cohen
    Jun 03, 2014 @ 19:28:45

    Congradulations to my cousin Esther, whose life long enthusiasm has been an inspiration.

  2. Day 10-11: Kellogg, ID –> Seattle, WA | Westward Story
    Sep 08, 2014 @ 18:18:07

    […] to Dr. Joshua Gortler, who, as I’m sure all our fellow 2014 graduates remember, received an honorary doctorate at our graduation. Our host introduced him, reminding us of his graduation speech, to which Yaakov responded […]