On June 10, Jewish Seniors Alliance fêtes one of its founders, Serge Haber, as well as his 90th birthday. (photo from JSA)
One of the community’s most dedicated and inspiring longtime leaders, Serge Haber, will be honoured on June 10, coinciding with a significant occasion in his life, his 90th birthday.
Haber has always cared passionately about community seniors and the Jewish people in general. Their well-being is on his mind constantly and, yes, anytime day or night, he’ll earnestly voice his concerns.
The tribute to this prominent community personality will take place at the Jewish Seniors Alliance (JSA) Chai Tea. The afternoon (2:30-5 p.m.) at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture will see the serving of party sandwiches, fruit and dessert, live entertainment by Dave Ivaz Music, caricatures by artist Katie Green, door prizes and more.
Event co-chairs – community leaders Marie Doduck and Helene Rosen – extend “a most sincere and heartfelt welcome to all to attend this special occasion, which will celebrate all of our community’s wonderful seniors, along with the honouring of our dear Serge.”
It is most fitting that this tribute be mounted by JSA, as Haber was at the forefront of its formation and currently serves as its president emeritus. His dedication to the Judaic directive of tikkun olam (repairing the world) has continued in word and action throughout the years, as he has not only initiated JSA and helped the association, but many other Jewish causes, as well.
Current JSA president Ken Levitt stressed that one reason the organization has evolved to offer so many programs and services is because of Haber’s efforts. Among other things, Haber has championed vocally and positively for the quality of life of community seniors.
Haber’s experiences profoundly shaped his character. Born in Romania in 1928 to Leon and Liza Haber, he lived among the horrors of pogroms and the Holocaust, to which he lost family members – and which he barely survived himself, due to fortunate circumstances.
At the end of the Second World War, Haber took two years of university in pharmacy in Bucharest. An extensive “real-life education” followed, when he left Romania in 1947, traveling to and living in Austria, then Italy, France, Cuba, Montreal (in 1950) and Dallas (1967), followed by stays in Toronto, Montreal and, finally – and fortunately for our community – moving to Vancouver in 1978.
Haber attributes the impetus for his extensive community service to his beloved wife Elinor, z’l, who he met and married in 1955 while in Montreal, and to their three children.
“All of my community efforts are due to Elinor’s encouragement and participation – I couldn’t have done it without her,” said Haber. And, as to his children, he emphasized that he wanted to establish a connection to encourage “their recognition of the importance of their being a part of the community, contributing to it … and remaining strongly Jewish.”
Haber’s leadership has seen him serve for decades in key executive positions for a variety of major Jewish organizations, including the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (highlighted by a two-year term as vice-president), Congregation Beth Israel (with 18 years of executive, chairmanship and men’s club leadership), Vancouver Holocaust Education Society (passionately urging racial tolerance at its annual symposium and ongoing school programs) and Hillel BC at the University of British Columbia (helping bring about a much-needed new facility). Haber served 19 years on the Louis Brier Home and Hospital board and was a director of the Jewish National Fund for 18 years.
Additionally, deeply religious, Haber started a new Conservative congregation, Shaara Shalom, in Laval, Que., in 1958; continuously helped lead religious services at Vancouver’s Beth Israel; and has taken a key role in daily and Shabbat service leadership at the Louis Brier – for 25 years straight.
In recognition of these accomplishments, Haber has been honoured throughout the years by numerous organizations, including the Louis Brier, as one of its Eight Over 80 recipients; by Beth Israel, with its President’s Award for community involvement; and by Simon Fraser University, which named him Man of the Year, the first Jewish person to be so recognized.
And, he served the community even in his work – owning and operating Kaplan’s Delicatessen for 23 years.
Today, Haber’s children are “always there for him”: Wanda, a social worker, in Toronto; Geoffrey, a Conservative rabbi, in Toronto; and Stephen, in the computer field, in Marysville, Wash. As well, there is his sister, Sidonia, in Tel Aviv, and his dear companion here, Sheila Gordon.
Ever on his mind are seniors and, especially, the Jewish Seniors Alliance.
“I am trying so hard,” he has said, “to do crucial work on behalf of community seniors, whose numbers will double in the next 10 years … and I see JSA becoming the most important Jewish organization in the city because of its training services and resultant volunteers who substantially help community seniors in need.”
Haber has expressed hope that seniors here will soon have their own building, providing a variety of needed services.
“I have an unending love for the Jewish people generally and, in particular, for those in our community,” he emphasized.
Abundant numbers of people throughout the community would affirm that the feeling is mutual.
To celebrate with Haber and wish him mazal tov on his 90th, join the JSA Chai Tea on June 10. Tickets ($36) may be purchased from the JSA office at 604-732-1555 (press 1 for Rita Propp) or at the door.
Bob Markin served on the editorial staff of the Jewish Western Bulletin for 16 years, and has written numerous freelance stories and articles throughout the years. He is a member of the editorial committee of the Jewish Senior Alliance’s Senior Line magazine.