Left to right: Kara Mintzberg, Maurice Moses, Cyndi Mintzberg, Sheila Gordon (a friend of Haber’s), Gyda Chud, Grace Hann and Tammi Belfer, with Marilyn Berger in front. (photo from JSA)
On Nov. 19, Jewish Seniors Alliance held their Fall Symposium at the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture. The event honoured Serge Haber, JSA’s founder.
Haber passed away in October of this year at the age of 95. Throughout his life, he never lost his vision of there being in the community an organization that would see seniors helping seniors. He worked tirelessly to achieve this goal. Many of the speakers that Sunday afternoon mentioned that Haber would never take no for an answer. He managed by the force of his personality to involve people in the alliance and to find donors and foundations to support its work.
Gyda Chud, a former co-president of JSA, was the symposium’s emcee. She introduced Tammi Belfer, the current president, who welcomed the 50 people in the audience and the 22 watching online. Former JSA presidents Ken Levitt and Marilyn Berger spoke about what they had gained from working with the organization and what they had learned from Haber. Cyndi Mintzberg and her daughter Kara Mintzberg, cousins of Haber, representing the family, spoke of how much they enjoyed spending time with Haber. They particularly mentioned Shabbat dinners. Haber’s children, in Toronto and Washington, were watching on Zoom.
Two videos of Haber were shown. The first had been prepared for his 90th birthday, and featured a collage of photos from different periods and events in his life. Some showed him in Romania before the war; others in Montreal, where he married; and some from Vancouver, where he lived for many years. The second video was of a speech that Haber gave to the Fraser Health Authority in which he explained the importance of dealing with the loneliness that afflicts many seniors, and how the Peer Support Program of JSA can help with these issues by providing emotional support.
Rabbi Adam Stein of Congregation Beth Israel, who is a JSA board member, offered remarks on behalf of the synagogue, where Haber was an active member for many years. Stein described visiting him in hospice. Instead of talking about himself, Haber wanted to know how the rabbi and his family were doing.
Marie Doduck, another member of the JSA board, brought greetings from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, where Haber was active with the survivors group.
Grace Hann, the trainer for the Peer Support Program, described her first interactions with Haber, saying she was frightened of him until he took the training and easily fit into the group. She felt the force of his dedication and said she learned a lot from him.
Maurice Moses, a long-time friend, sang a moving rendition of “Eli, Eli.” He also led the group in the singing of the Partisans’ Hymn, which Marilyn Berger had suggested as a reminder of the Holocaust and the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel.
Belfer shared some of the JSA’s plans, including the possible hiring of an executive director and the organization’s 20th anniversary gala, to be held in February at Temple Sholom. She spoke again of Haber’s vision and of the three pillars of JSA – education, advocacy and peer support – and noted that there were donor cards on the tables, which people could use to donate to the Serge Haber Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Vancouver. The formal part of the event closed with the singing of Hatikvah.
Shanie Levin is a Jewish Seniors Alliance Life Governor. She is also on the editorial committee of Senior Line magazine.