Self-made businessman honored for philanthropy
By Bea L. Hines
It was a joy to be a part of the audience honoring Isaac and Nieves Olemberg last Wednesday at the Summer Luncheon and Boutique at Miami Jewish Health Systems. Sponsored by the Latin Auxiliary of Douglas Gardens, the event honored the Olembergs with the Lifetime Achievement Award for all the philanthropic work they do here and throughout the world.
As I read the account of this couple’s life and their good deeds to humankind in the luncheon program, I didn’t think it would be robbery to share some of what I read about them with you.
The son of a Polish immigrant, Isaac was born and educated in Havana. In 1955, he met the pretty Nieves, the love of his life. They married soon afterwards and started their family which initially included son Roberto and daughter Lilliam, known also as Lily.
Isaac’s father started a shoe factory, Olemberg Shoes, in Havana, and it was the beginning of an Olemberg tradition that continues to this day. And as a young entrepreneur, Isaac started his own shoe business — a store — in Havana and called it Miami Shoes.
In 1960, the Olembergs left Cuba with their two young children, hoping their stay would be temporary. But shortly after they left, the Castro regime seized their business and holdings. Although the Olembergs were forced to leave behind their extended family as well, they moved forward with a sense of hope and faith in their efforts to create a good life in their new homeland.
The young family settled in Miami Beach and Isaac started at the bottom of the ladder as a shoe salesman at a local store. By 1962, he and a friend borrowed enough money to establish their own shoe store in North Miami Beach. That store was soon followed by another in Cutler Ridge.
While the Olembergs were growing their business, their family was growing, too, with the birth of Janine, also known as Chana around 1963, and later in 1968, the birth of their fourth child, Lisette.
It was in 1964, that Isaac sold both stores to his partner and founded his own wholesale shoe warehouse, which he named Olem Shoe Corp. Nieves worked alongside her husband as his accountant, while raising a family and keeping a “Jewish” home, where to this day the children and grandchildren gather each week for Friday dinner.
Their charitable endeavors are too many to name here. But to give you an idea, Nieves is a founding member of the Inter-American Chapter of Hadassah and has served as its president for the past 20 years. She also is deeply involved in the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.
Isaac is involved with the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, where he is a long time member of its board of directors and executive committee. He is a founding member of the federation’s Cuban Division and has served as president and treasurer. He also is on the board of Temple Menorah and at Temple Beth Shmuel-Cuban Hebrew Congregation.
They are supporters of the Holocaust Memorial, the Jewish Museum of Florida, the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine and have made generous commitments to the Jewish National Fund. The Olembergs are dedicated supporters of the Miami Jewish Health System, life members of the Latin Auxiliary and members of the Gift of the Heart Society. In addition, the Olembergs are the proud grandparents of six: Rachel, Aaron, Jacqueline, David, Daniel and Samuel.