More than 130 people joined the Chai Tea celebrations June 10. (photo by Alan Katowitz)
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
(Rabbi Abraham Twerski)
The Chai Tea celebration on June 10 brought together 135 people to support the work of the Jewish Seniors Alliance and to honour Serge Haber on his 90th birthday.
Educator and writer Matthew Gindin emceed the event, which took place at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture. Shelley Rivkin of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver emphasized Haber’s effectiveness in bringing the issues of seniors to the fore in the Jewish and general communities, while Grace Hann, coordinator of JSA’s peer support services (with Charles Liebovitch), described Haber as a visionary who created the program because of his love and commitment to seniors. She told the story of a woman, alone, sick with cancer, who had lost both her eyesight and hearing. Peer support services provided her with three levels of support: a peer counselor, a driver and a friendly telephone caller.
JSA coordinator Liz Azeroual and her assistant, Rita Propp, joined Hann and Liebovitch for a tribute to Haber to the tune of “This Land is Your Land.” Music by Dave and Julie Ivaz filled the room, and Julie Ivaz read a summary of Haber’s biography, which was accompanied by a slide show of some of his life experiences. The musicians then serenaded Haber with a medley of his favourite songs.
Ken Levitt, president of JSA, emphasized the importance of “reinventing oneself,” both in terms of venue and occupation. Haber is a prime example: from being a pharmacy student in Romania, to surviving the Holocaust, to reaching safety in Cuba and then, with the help of an uncle, settling in Montreal in 1950 and coming to Vancouver in 1978. Here, Haber ran Kaplan’s Jewish delicatessen from 1981 until 2000. During that time, he began working with seniors – JSA started as a subcommittee of Federation – and he continues to be productive and active.
At the Chai event, Haber recited the prayer, “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, for giving us life, sustaining us and enabling us to reach this season.” His wife Elinor passed away seven years ago; they had been married 57 years and have three children, Wanda, Geoffrey and Stephen. Haber has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He acknowledged with affection his friend and partner Sheila Gordon, who supports all his endeavours.
Haber lamented that, whereas JSA is in the business of prevention, the government is mainly concerned with responding to the urgent needs of seniors. A public program of prevention would prolong healthier lives for seniors, he said, and eliminate the expensive costs associated with sickness and mental decay.
The 70 volunteers who work with 175 seniors at JSA are not going to be enough, said Haber. “Sometime, somewhere in your life, rich or poor, you’ll need the services of JSA,” he said.
Throughout the afternoon, tickets were drawn for donated door prizes. The 50-50 draw was won by Carole Kline, who donated the money back to JSA. The grand prize of a night at the Grand Villa Casino Hotel was won by Julia Wallstrom.
Helene Rosen and Marie Doduck were the co-conveners of the Chai Tea. Their efforts and work were acknowledged along with that of Gyda Chud and Propp. Delightful portrait caricature drawings by artist Katie Green were available all afternoon. Gala Catering served up the sandwiches and cake. It was a memorable afternoon.
Tamara Frankel is a member of the board of Jewish Seniors Alliance. Shanie Levin, MSW, worked for many years in the field of child welfare. During that time, she was active in the union. As well, she participated in amateur dramatics. She has served on the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver and is presently on the executive of JSA and a member of the editorial committee.