Jewish Seniors Alliance’s first silent auction, which offered a selection of close to 30 items, from gift certificates from local businesses to paintings and prints. (photo by Susan Curtis)
How do you say thank you to individuals who strive to better the lives of people in the community? Jewish Seniors Alliance’s answer is an appreciation dinner, part of its annual general meeting, which comprises a tribute to three conscientious community personalities. As well, at this year’s AGM on Sept. 19, thanks were given to outgoing JSA president Ken Levitt and new co-presidents Gyda Chud and Larry Shapiro were welcomed.
Levitt’s leadership was praised by Shapiro, who noted the outgoing president’s “ever-present love of life, which inspires everyone and brings out the best in each person whom he meets.”
Chud read a poem, “Captain Ken,” written by JSA honourary life member Binny Goldman. It noted: “You listened with your ear and understood with your heart. Your experience, knowledge and judgment always saw us through successfully – you are a leader, a man above most men.”
Anne Kang, MLA for Burnaby-Deer Lake, spoke about the ongoing efforts of the B.C. government on seniors’ issues, including improved long-term care assistance and training of care workers, and the overseeing of buildings and streets, to ensure that they are accessible and safer for seniors.
Emcee Jack Altman began the honouree ceremony with a tribute to Tzvia Estrin, who was nominated by Yaffa House.
Estrin’s son Avie, who is the current president of Yaffa House, recounted the efforts of his mother and late father Aaron, who worked for 10 years to establish Yaffa House. It opened in 2001 as Western Canada’s first home dedicated to housing community members with mental illness in the context of a Jewish living environment, including kosher food. He said his mother continues full-throttle, being at Yaffa House every day, usually at 6:30 a.m. And he emphasized that “nobody could have achieved what Tzvia has attained and continues to do for the most vulnerable segment of our own community.”
Yaffa House presently oversees four homes across the city, including a newly opened women’s facility. Its mandate is to provide permanent non-transitional housing and has in-house support. It takes people off the streets and tries to keep them off the streets.
Tzvia Estrin thanked everyone and read the poem “Don’t Turn Your Back,” which emphasizes the importance of taking the time to compassionately listen to others’ needs and to help them as lovingly as one is able.
Cindy Charkow, a director of Yaffa House, noted the outstanding, much-needed service that the facility provides and stressed that, “without Tzvia, there wouldn’t be a Yaffa House.”
The second honouree, Jack Wizenberg, was recognized for his work with Tikva Housing Society, which helps lower-income Jewish people find affordable housing. He said, “Seeing Jewish individuals and families who are alone, struggling and having to rely on social insurance and the food bank to survive, touches my heart.”
Wizenberg served on the Tikva board for six years, bringing to the position his 41 years’ experience in property management, as well as a lifelong involvement in a range of Jewish organizations and causes in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
He said he felt “extremely moved” when reading a Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver housing needs study indicating that, in 2015, 16% of the Jewish population in Greater Vancouver were living below the poverty line “and, in all likelihood, those numbers have increased over the last four years.” He emphasized that things beyond their control prevented these people from working and, in a blink of an eye, they found themselves in need and relying on social assistance to survive.
Wizenberg began his service at Tikva helping with maintenance and tenant issues at Dany Guincher House. Since the first 11-suite apartment building in Marpole was purchased in 2008, he said, Tikva has made available 18 units of mixed single and family housing in the Diamond Residences in Richmond and another 32 family townhouses will be available in the Ben and Esther Dayson Residences in Vancouver’s Fraserview area. Last year, 100 individuals were helped by the Esther Dayson Subsidy Program, which provided those in need with adequate funds to allow them to continue living in their current accommodations.
Tikva president Shelley Karrel said Wizenberg seemed to have a passion for property management and often joined the property management and/or fire-safety group when doing walkthroughs to evaluate building conditions and the need for repairs. His positions have included treasurer, building committee head and acquisitions committee head.
“He was always seeking to ensure the best for Tikva, the buildings and its tenants,” said Karrel. “He is a person who respects others, is very organized and is a great team player. We are blessed to have Jack as a board member and friend.”
Evening honouree , whose tenor singing voice has brought joy to countless individuals and organizations throughout the Jewish and general communities for more than six decades, was introduced by JSA president emeritus Serge Haber.
“We’re honouring people who love community,” said Haber. “Maurice has helped seniors so very much by enthusiastically and nobly giving his special talents, his outstanding voice to the community, and particularly to seniors. Your father, George Moses, a celebrated rabbi/cantor in Bangalore, India, would have been most proud of you. Without question, you are most deserving of this honour.”
Moses spoke of the pleasure he receives by entertaining, and especially in doing so for senior citizens, emphasizing that “our precious seniors should not be ignored and they should be entertained and respected for their countless contributions to life in the community. The only way that I can thank seniors for all they have done is through my singing. It gives me great satisfaction to see their smiling faces, their faces lighting up when I see them react to a song familiar to them.”
Moses shared some of his many religious/concert participations for seniors, including singing for 17 years at Shabbat services at Louis Brier Home and Hospital. He has sung with the Jewish Community Centre Choir, the Shiron Singers, with Elizabeth Wolak and Muriel Morris, and the Rinat Ensemble, all of which performed for seniors. He also has produced a Vision TV show, Let’s Sing Again, which featured a popular tunes sing-along aiming to revive seniors’ nostalgic memories.
He has sung and danced for the past 10 years with the seniors’ concert group Showtime, which is produced by Beryl Israel, as well as with the Vancouver Jewish Men’s Choir (VJMC), the Kol Simcha Choir (composed of members from all synagogues), at Temple Sholom services with Cantor Emeritus Arthur Guttman, at Beth Hamidrash, at Beth Tikvah Synagogue and at Chabad Richmond with Cantor Steve Levin. He is an active participant with the Choir of the Performing Arts Lodge (PAL), which stages a variety of special shows for community seniors.
Moses said his enduring love for seniors was developed by his interactions with the late Beth Israel Cantor Murray Nixon, who constantly stressed the importance of treating older people with respect.
“I am so pleased,” said Moses, “that this evening is taking place at Beth Israel, truly ‘my home away from home,’ where I served in the synagogue’s choir for 66 years under seven different cantors and six different rabbis – and with Pucky Pelman, my mentor for 45 years.”
Moses expressed appreciation to his “guest of honour,” his daughter Melissa, “who has been by my side through three bouts of cancer, making me drink lots of water, eat healthy foods, and go on long walks at the Southlands.”
He gave “a most sincere thank you” to a number of people: Arnold Selwyn, his “35-year wonderful partner in song”; Morris, a pianist with whom he has performed for 55 years; Miriam Breitman, with the Rinat Ensemble and now the PAL chorus, and PAL co-founder Bill Harvey; Binny Goldman, for her help at Louis Brier services; Stan Shear, VJMC musical director; Cantor Yaacov Orzech with the Kol Simcha Choir; and Jonathan Berkowitz of BI’s Purim Shpiel.”
He ended by singing “Let’s Sing Again” and, with Selwyn, Adon Olam.
A video on JSA’s outreach and peer support activities, produced by Cory Bretz of Heirloom Films, was screened, followed by the JSA’s first silent auction, which offered a selection of close to 30 items, from gift certificates from local businesses to paintings and prints.
The event was co-chaired by Tammi Belfer and Larry Shapiro, with committee members Tamara Frankel, Helene Rosen, Marshall and Marilyn Berger, and JSA staff Elizabeth Azeroual and Rita Propp. Catering was provided by Nava Creative Cuisine; the photographer was Susan Curtis.
Bob Markin is a longtime Jewish Seniors Alliance supporter.