As a boy growing up in Cuba, George Feldenkreis became involved in the Jewish community from an early age. He joined youth organizations and by the time he was 20, he became president of the first Federation of Jewish Youth Organizations in Havana.
In 1961, Feldenkreis, now chairman and chief executive of Perry Ellis International, left Cuba for Miami to flee the Castro regime with $700 in his pocket, his pregnant wife and 1-year-old son. He worked hard to build a life in America and soon became involved in Miami's Jewish community.
Feldenkreis, who is credited for laying the foundation for the Greater Miami Jewish Federations' Cuban/Latin Division, will be honored at the federation's Main Event on Wednesday with the 2016 Friend of Israel Humanitarian Award.
“He has been such a remarkable force in the community for four decades,” said Jacob Solomon, the president and CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. “It feels great from our point of view to recognize someone who really earned it.”
Besides donating money to the federation and pro-Israel causes, Feldenkreis has been on the board for more than 40 years. He has helped bridge the Hispanic Jewish community with the federation and works with numerous community charities.
Feldenkreis, 80, said this award is a “big honor.”
“It makes me feel good knowing I can help other people,” said Feldenkreis, who is also a University of Miami trustee and is on the board of directors at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the American Friends of Rambam Medical Center.
The Main Event is the federation’s signature celebration of the Miami area’s Jewish community and its commitment to helping Jewish people in need across South Florida, Israel and the world.
In 2002, the federation created the Friend of Israel Humanitarian Award to honor someone — not necessarily a local — who has advocated for Israel and the Jewish community. Among past winners: former New York Mayor Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Israeli President Shimon Peres, and Miami’s Irma and Norman Braman.
This year’s event, which will be held Hilton Miami Downtown, 1601 Biscayne Blvd., will feature as keynote speaker former Ambassador Ron Prosor, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations from 2011-15.
Solomon said he is looking forward to presenting a plaque and viewing a slide show of Feldenkreis’ contributions.
Feldenkreis, who started his career as a small importer of guayaberas, said Israel needs help and he “feels a responsibility” to support his homeland.
For him, it’s not just about writing a check, it’s about “helping those who need help,” and getting an award is a bonus.
“It’s a badge of honor,” he said. “It feels good to be recognized.”
If you go
What: Greater Miami Jewish Federation’s Main Event.
When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Hilton Miami Downtown, 1601 Biscayne Blvd.
Cost: $125 per person, $72 for those 30 and younger.
For information: Visit http://jewishmiami.org/news/federation/main_event_2016/ or call 786-866-8438.