On Nov. 30, as part of the Fraser Health Virtual Geriatric Educational Session entitled The Importance of Emotional Support for Seniors, Grace Hann, Jewish Seniors Alliance peer support services supervisor and trainer of volunteers, made a presentation that featured recorded remarks from JSA president emeritus Serge Haber.
Haber pointed out in his remarks how life changes for many older seniors once they retire. They often cease to be valued and become invisible, he said. The JSA’s Peer Support Services (PSS) program has trained seniors to provide emotional support to other seniors – active and reflective listening, encouraging the senior to talk about their issues and finding solutions on their own, but with support.
When Haber took the training course, he learned how crucial the PSS program is for the well-being of seniors. The support provided helps them deal with tremendous changes in their lives, such as loss of family, loss of position in society and health issues. Haber argued that these needs are not usually recognized. The gains made by the clients of PSS, he said, are phenomenal.
Hann pointed out that the training and volunteering also helps the seniors who become volunteers.
The second half of the presentation consisted of an explanation by Hann of the training process and a description of the PSS program, as well as other JSA activities, including education and advocacy. Charles Leibovitch, PSS coordinator and the social worker for the program, spoke about Haber’s passion for the work they are doing and how his passion has inspired many of the staff and the volunteers.
Older seniors can remain alone at home longer, if they would like to, as a result of the government’s Better at Home program. However, there is little in emotional support offered; it is not just a gap in this area, but a chasm.
Alvarez thanked everyone and mentioned the summit Fraser Health is planning in June for further discussion of these topics.
Shanie Levinis a Jewish Seniors Alliance Life Governor. She is also on the editorial committee of Senior Line magazine.
Alex Buckman, a child survivor of the Holocaust, shared the story of his harrowing childhood years during a moving online event Jan. 27. The program, marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, was the second annual such event organized by the Bayit in Richmond.
Buckman is the president of the Vancouver Child Survivors Group and has shared his experiences with thousands of students as a Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) survivor speaker.
“I was born on Oct. 31, 1939, in Brussels, Belgium,” he told more than 100 people who attended virtually. “My family was Jewish. I was 7 months old when Nazi Germany invaded Belgium on May 10, 1940. Everything changed for Jewish people in Belgium.”
He recalled how, at the age of 4, he was escorted by a strange woman, as they traveled through the night, sleeping in forests and foraging for food. After days of walking, they arrived at an orphanage. He would only discover years later that his parents were sent to Auschwitz.
At the orphanage, he met up with his cousin Annie but was told that they were to refer to each other as siblings.
When Nazis would come for inspections, Jewish boys were hastily sent into a cellar. “They told us again to be very quiet, then they shut the two wooden doors, replaced the carpet and furniture,” he said. “In the cellar, we were very cold and scared and we peed our pants. We saw large things running around us. They told us later that they were rats. The first time this happened I was 4 years old…. It seemed like we were in that cellar for a very long time. Soon, we heard every footstep over our heads. We heard men screaming loudly in a language that we did not understand. We were scared. We did not know what was going on. They told us that we should not cry but we were scared children so we cried.
“Suddenly, we heard the pushing of the furniture and they opened two wooden doors and we saw the light,” he continued. “They asked us to come out but we did not want to go out. We told them that we had peed our pants [so] they promised that they would give us a warm bath. This happened too many times from the age of 4 to 6-and-a-half.”
Annie’s mother, Alex’s Aunt Becky, was sent to the women’s concentration camp Ravensbrück. When each new train of prisoners would arrive, Becky would run through the crowds of arriving women calling the name of her sister, Devora.
“A young girl came close to Becky and said, I knew Devora but she is dead,” Buckman recounted. “Becky asked her: how did you know Devora? The young girl replied, I am from Belgium and I used to babysit her son, Alex. Becky thanked her and cried. Becky looked at the sky and prayed. She said, if I survive this, one day, and find Alex, I will raise him as my son.”
When liberation finally did come, it took time for the surviving family to find one another. Alex and Annie waited in the orphanage as one child after another was claimed by family. Alex tried to reassure his cousin, whom he believed to be his sister.
“I would tell her that our parents would come soon,” he said, “but, like Annie, I did not know what happened to our parents and why they were not coming for us. The orphanage kept all the children for another six months, hoping that our parents would come and pick us up. But no one came for us.”
The remaining children were transferred to a Red Cross facility in Brussels. Eventually, they were reunited with Annie’s parents, who Alex assumed were also his own. It was another cousin who, in an act of revenge for a childhood spat, blurted out the truth to Alex that his parents were dead.
Buckman went on to share his experience in April 2010 as a survivor-participant in the March of the Living, a program that brings Jewish youth to Poland and then on to Israel to explore firsthand the history of the Holocaust and its survivors who helped build Israel.
“It is almost impossible to describe the feeling I felt entering that camp, Auschwitz,” Buckman said. “On both sides of the camp there were shoes. As I passed the shoes, I caressed the little pair of shoes. The students were crying, but we had to continue.… We saw a mountain of glasses all tangled together.
“We finally walked in a shower room and I closed my eyes,” he said. “I was thinking of my mother and her sister.… We were told that the women panicked when they did not see the water come down from the showers. They ran toward the walls and scratched them with their fingernails. When I heard this, I turned and caressed the wall, feeling the scratches made by Jewish women prisoners. I wondered, were those scratches made by my mother? I would never know.
“In that room, I finally said, au revoir, Maman.”
At the commemoration, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, accompanied by four city councilors, spoke and read a proclamation.
All four Richmond MLAs were present, with Kelley Greene, MLA for Richmond-Steveston, reading a proclamation from the premier. Finance Minister Selina Robinson also addressed the event, as did Steveston-Richmond East Member of Parliament Kenny Chiu, who spoke of his own visit to Auschwitz.
The Bayit’s Rabbi Levi Varnai noted that this year’s event, which represents the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, also fell on erev Tu b’Shevat, the new year of the trees.
“The marriage of these two days is chilling,” said the rabbi. “Man is compared to the trees of the field, our tradition tells us. The six million souls murdered in the Holocaust were like individual human trees, each had the potential to grow, to flourish, and to bear fruit of the generations. They were obliterated, but one thing remained that can never be destroyed: their roots.
“The roots of the Jews who perished in the Holocaust goes back 3,300 years to Mount Sinai. What gives Holocaust survivors the sustenance to keep going? What motivates future generations of Jews to double down on life? It’s not just the memory of those who passed away, it’s also the memories of hundreds of generations who came before them, the generations who struggled and prevailed against all odds…. As we remember today the six million souls who left us, we can also remember the millions of souls who came before them and the millions who will come after.
“Today, we mourn. Tomorrow, we plant and renew,” said Varnai.
The Bayit’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day program was co-presented with partners including the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the VHEC, the Kehila Society of Richmond and the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver. The program was emceed by Bayit president Keith Liedtke.
Earlier in the day, a national virtual commemoration took place, organized by the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in partnership with the VHEC and other groups across Canada. Survivors, including Vancouver’s Serge Haber, lit memorial candles. Heather Dune Macadam, author of the book 999: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz, spoke with Michael Berenbaum, a writer and professor and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust.
Langara College recently held the closing ceremony for Writing Lives: The Holocaust Memoir Project, a two-semester collaboration between Langara College, the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) and the Azrieli Foundation.
At the April 26 event, Dr. Rachel Mines, a member of Langara’s English department and coordinator of the project, described Writing Lives.
“In the first semester of this project,” she said, “students learned about the European Jewish culture and the Holocaust in the classroom, through studying historical and literary texts. They also researched and wrote a paper on prewar European Jewish communities.
“In the second term, students were teamed up with their survivor partners. They interviewed the survivors, transcribed the interviews and turned the transcriptions into written memoirs. The memoirs will be archived and possibly published, and they will also serve as legacies for the survivors and their families.”
Mines also relayed a message from Melanie Mark, B.C. minister of advanced education, skills and training.
“The Writing Lives project gives a voice to Holocaust survivors and teaches us about the type of courage and resilience it takes to overcome injustice,” said Mark in her statement. “These emotional and moving stories help connect people from different cultures and inspire us to do better for each other. I am proud to be part of a government that is committed to building a vision of reconciliation through the adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. As an indigenous minister whose grandparents went to residential school, as the first person who ever graduated from high school in my family and went to college and university, I know the power of education. I know how transformative it is and how impactful it can be on our communities. Thank you for being truth tellers and helping to keep these stories alive in the minds of people.”
Gene Homel, former chair of the liberal studies department at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, encouraged students to consider entering the fields of history, politics or literature.
“History is very important in providing context to some disturbing developments, not so much in Canada but other parts of the world, which are not as fortunate as Canada,” he said. “History is a scientific-based discipline, and that kind of approach is all the more important in the context of fake news and alternative facts. It is very important that the stories be told, and for us to take an inclusive but evidence-based and scientific approach to history.”
“When I invited the survivors in this program,” said Dr. Ilona Shulman Spaar, education director at the VHEC, “I mentioned two things: first, I expressed that the VHEC is confident that the experience of meeting with a Holocaust survivor will prove meaningful for the students and, secondly, I mentioned that I hope the survivors, too, will benefit from this opportunity. Listening to the positive feedback that I received from both the students and the survivors, and looking at the overall outcome of this project, I am glad to see that my hopes for this program became true.”
Serge Haber, a Holocaust survivor and a Writing Lives participant, talked about the significance of his memoir. “It is very crucial to me, because, for the last 35 years, I have been thinking of writing my experience in this life,” he said. “I never had a chance, the time or the person to listen to me. I hated the machines that record, so [a] personal touch was very important to me. And here it was, presented by Langara. I worked with two students, and I think we created a relationship, a personal understanding of what I went through.”
Haber added, “In fact, I have never been in a concentration camp, but it is important to know that the Holocaust happened not only in camps but also in many cities around Europe, where thousands upon thousands of Jewish people, young and old alike, perished for nothing, only because they were Jewish. I profoundly remember three words that [I was told] while I was watching what was happening on the streets below, where thousands of people had been killed – my father mentioned to me, ‘Look, listen and remember.’ And I remember.”
Heather Parks, reflecting on the passion and dedication that she and her fellow students contributed to the project, shared an emotional speech.
“For their trust in us, we poured our hearts into building their legacy,” she said. “We spent our days and long nights taking words told to us in confidence. We poured our hearts – and sometimes tears – into making a story fit for the most incredible people we have had the honour of meeting. Every part of this was hard work, and every part of this was worth it. We learned so much from them.
“Besides the lessons on history, we learned what true strength means,” she said. “We learned that love can remain even after trauma, loss or heartbreak; that new love grows as lives move forward, and that time can heal many wounds, even though they may leave scars. We were lucky to have been included in this love, this trust and this experience. I am not the only one in this project – in the experience of all of us, this project was illuminating and enlightening. It was surreal and awe-inspiring in every sense of the word. The experience taught us compassion, how to listen and what it means to love in the face of hate.”
The Writing Lives closing ceremony, however, may be an end that ushered in a new beginning. According to Dr. Rick Ouellet, director of Langara College’s indigenous education and services, his department is currently taking initiatives to continue the program. Writing Lives was a collaboration in the two years it ran. Similarly, the future project would be in collaboration with organizations that are working closely with residential school survivors, such as the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society and the British Columbia Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, to establish necessary protocols and ensure the stories of survivors are respected and the students are well prepared. Though not yet finalized, Ouellet aims to initiate the new Writing Lives program in fall 2019 at Langara.
Marc Perez, a Writing Lives student participant, lives and works on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. His creative nonfiction and fiction appear in Ricepaper Magazine and PRISM international 56.3. His personal essay “On Meeting a Holocaust Survivor” is published in Zachor (May 2018).
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 Frankelis 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.
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 Markinserved 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.
Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver board and staff 2014-15. Standing, from left: Janet Kolof, Timothy Newman, Marilyn Glazer, Barbara Bronstein, Lyle Pullan, Claire Cohen, Gyda Chud, Ida Gitlina, Rubin Feldman and Binny Goldman. Seated, from left: Karon Shear (staff), Shanie Levin, Ken Levitt, Serge Haber, Marilyn Berger, Milton Adelson and Rita Propp (staff). Missing from the photo are Debbie Cossever, Marie Doduck, Lionel Fishman, Sylvia Gurstein, Sylvia Hill, Pamella Ottem, Rita Roling, Edith Shier and Jackie Weiler, as well as peer support staff Charles Leibovitch and Grace Hann. (photo from JSA)
As the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver marked its 11th annual general meeting on Sept. 11 at the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery, it was indeed an evening of celebration inspiration and innovation.
JSA past president Serge Haber welcomed a standing-room-only crowd and led them in a minute of silence to honor those who had passed away during the year.
Adolf Zilbershtain, president of the Most Bridge Russian seniors group, brought greetings and extended thanks on behalf of its 150 members for the financial support JSA had given them.
Bernard Jackson, president of Jewish War Veterans Shalom Branch – one of only three branches in Canada – followed and gifted JSA with greetings and a monetary donation.
Treasurer Milton Adelson reported that JSA is in good standing but that adequate funding remains an ongoing challenge and priority.
Attendees learned from Pamella Ottem that JSA’s peer support program is now the largest in the city, and that JSA is looked to for guidance, mentorship and support by many organizations offering similar services. Ottem lauded the peer support leadership of Grace Hann and Charles Leibovitch in building the program, which now serves more than 150 seniors and includes peer counseling, a home visiting program, phone calls to isolated seniors, an information and referral phone line, transport to medical appointments and a new bereavement support group.
Representing the membership committee, Lyle Pullan reported that JSA gained 46 new members this past year. He encouraged attendees to consider themselves as committee members, and to “Sign ’em up!” The goal is 100 new JSA memberships for the next year.
Joining the meeting was Shelley Rivkin, associate executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, who spoke about how much JSA and Haber are valued. She said Haber served as a mentor not only for Federation, but for all who advocate for the well-being of the community’s elders, who number 5,000 and whose numbers are expected to double in the next decade.
As JSA celebrated its 11th year and Haber’s nine as president, his report highlighted JSA’s numerous accomplishments in advocacy, outreach, the Seniors Line Magazine, the Empowerment Series, fall symposium and spring forum, where JSA has achieved a 25 percent increase in attendance. He honored the work of executive coordinator Karon Shear, his “right hand,” for her conscientious hard work and dedication, and the commitment of Rita Propp, office assistant. Together with the 4,000 hours of JSA volunteer activity, this is what makes JSA the “best of the best,” he said.
Ken Levitt, board vice-president paid tribute to Haber. Levitt asked the audience to ponder how many 86-year-olds they know who are such exemplary leaders and contribute with such vitality on a tiny, shoe-string budget. Very few, he suggested. Haber was elected president emeritus in a unanimous vote.
Certificates of merit were presented to “retiring yet always rewiring’’ board members, Pullan presented the nominations slate of returning and new board members and the election included the executive board for 2014-15.
Incoming JSA president Marilyn Berger, in her acceptance speech, concluded the AGM with the message, “Let’s do this together, as JSA continues to grow, flourish and thrive.”
After the meeting, there was dinner in the Wosk Auditorium with entertainment by Tzimmes, after which four honorees were celebrated, each of whom were nominated by their individual organizations for their contribution in service to others and ensuring that they enjoy life to the fullest.
Natasha Likholatnikov, nominated by Chabad of Richmond, has been a volunteer since her arrival in Canada from Ukraine. She volunteers in an ongoing capacity often several times each week. According to Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman, Likholatnikov spends more hours at Chabad than he does. She is involved in the Women’s Art Club, whose participants are from the former Soviet Union, and in Chabad’s Community Kitchen. She cooks for Chabad community activities, helps coordinate volunteers, and much more.
Stacey Kettleman was put forward by Congregation Beth Tikvah. She has been a part of Beth Tikvah for many years, and works hard to help many seniors and people who are isolated and need assistance. She thinks nothing of whipping up a meal, whether it be for Shabbat, a Yom Tov or just a warm dinner, and then delivering it to a senior in need. She also ensures the senior has food in his or her home, getting groceries for them if they do not. If Kettleman hears about a senior perhaps not attending an event, she will make a point of getting that person a ride – trying to make sure the senior is not alone, but part of the community.
As a writer, photographer, tribute-card creator and honorary JSA life member, honoree Binny Goldman brings an enthusiastic and positive presence to the many activities she undertakes for JSA. She rarely misses meetings, voluntarily undertakes assignments with devotion and the results are extraordinary.
Last but not least, Edith Shier created Senior Line Magazine, now published three times each year. To quote Haber, the magazine “is the only written communication to the seniors in the Jewish community and continues to receive rave reviews as the best of the best.”
Concluding the festivities, Haber was presented with a gavel and plaque by Berger for the work he has accomplished, the legacy he leaves and the contribution he will continue to make to JSA. He received a standing ovation. For his outstanding contribution to JSA and in memory and honor of his late wife Elinor, the Serge and Elinor z”l Haber Peer Support Fund has been established.
Haber urged everyone to be here and there with all our heart, and to press governments at all levels to play a much stronger role in the well-being of seniors.
Dinner co-chairs were Bernice Dorfman and Regina Boxer.
Gyda Chudis secretary of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver executive and board of directors.
It was a capacity crowd at Jewish Senior Alliance’s Spring Forum on May 4. (photo by Binny Goldman)
Gyda Chud, co-convener and current board member of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver, as well as an original member of the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture, enthusiastically welcomed a capacity crowd of 180 to this year’s annual JSA Spring Forum, which took place on May 4 at the Peretz. The theme was “Retired/Rewired.”
Chud acquainted those attending with the philosophy, programs and purpose of JSA and reminded us that life learning leads to the best quality of life. She advocated that we should all be volunteers, saying, “Volunteers are not paid – not because they are worthless but rather because they are priceless.”
Bev Cooper read her poem about how she came up with the word “rewired,” rather than retired. For Cooper, the word “rewirement” has become her cue to search for ways to ride the waves in the difficult times. And, in the more comfortable times, rewirement propels her to use the opportunity to seek out new challenges.
Cooper then called upon Gloria Levi, social worker, consultant in the field of gerontology and co-author of Dealing with Memory Changes as You Grow Older, to be the moderator of the afternoon’s forum. She spoke of her personal connection to JSA and introduced gerontologist Roz Kaplan, director of the seniors program at Simon Fraser University’s continuing studies.
Kaplan said that most people nowadays will live some 30 years after retirement and that we need to prepare for that time. Retirement is not a destiny but a journey for which we should “pack” essentials and, as with all journeys, some of us will be better equipped and prepared than others for the trip.
With the average life span for Canadians now into the 80s, we were encouraged to keep learning: an instrument, a language, dance steps, the means to rise to challenges and accept change.
We were told we needed confidants, connections, community and having a passion. This journey would be a path to opportunity and, as we age, we should divest ourselves of “extra luggage” to enable us to reinvent ourselves. Most of us got through life identifying ourselves with our work, noted Kaplan, and reinvention would allow us a chance to ease into retirement.
The stages of life usually encompass birth, education, work, retirement, death. It is up to us to fill in the gaps with personal growth. Many of us return to an encore career. Family, friends, fitness, travel, volunteering and various hobbies serve to keep us vital. A recommended read was Creating a Healthy Retirement by Dr. Ronald and Lois Richardson.
After a brief question period, Levi introduced speaker John F. Helliwell, an officer of the Order of Canada, a fellow of the Royal Society and senior fellow and co-director of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. As a professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, Helliwell has written articles on “how to build happy lives,” the topic of his talk, and is a co-editor of The World Happiness Report.
We started by singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” Helliwell asked if we were any happier after the shared singing than before, and most, if not all, of us were.
How do we measure happiness? Usually this is not a question asked by our doctor or therapist; rather, we are asked if we are sad or depressed or possess negative feelings. Negativity is not only a state of mind but also affects our physical well-being, Helliwell explained.
An example was given of students in a hotel room who were all exposed to the rhinovirus. Those with negative feelings/attitude generally succumbed to the cold germ, whereas those with a positive outlook were much less affected, with some even escaping being sick entirely. It was also suggested that we need to concentrate more on health building rather than health repair.
Economic factors are far less important to happiness than bonds with other people and assisting each other to overcome strife and difficult circumstances. Iceland and Ireland were given as examples of quality of life because the people living there showed, on average, more concern and care for one another.
Aristotle stated that a fine quality of life brings happiness to individuals in a variety of forms but we all agreed on aspects needed for good quality of life: food, health, trust, freedom (to make decisions and feel actively engaged in one’s life) and generosity (doing nice things for others raises one’s own happiness).
Another example offered by Helliwell was of a care home in Denmark, where the staff had been asked to design the home as if they themselves were to be its residents. Their advice was to do away with uniforms for staff, to dispense with bibs and to make mealtimes variable. At one of the homes, the chef even drove the residents to a local movie theatre and they all enjoyed annual holidays together, more like one would expect if one were with close family.
In a residence where there were two floors, one known as generally happy, the other, unhappy, residents on the “unhappy floor” were asked to design the space in which they would be living in a new building and suggestions were made, followed and increased happiness ensued.
In another instance, a seniors residence was combined with a day care, and seniors and juniors interacted happily, all benefiting, a little like symbiosis. No one broke the rules, nobody wandered away searching for the home they had left – they all felt they were home.
During the question period, it was asked why Israelis are happy even though they live such stressful lives. The answer seemed to be that there really is no time for introspection. As well, all are united in the common bond to continue to defend and build their country and that aim/purpose builds happiness.
A last question was about how we can continue to be selfishly happy if many of the rest of the world seems so unhappy. The answer was, “Whose misery is lessened by our being unhappy?”
After summarizing the two speakers’ talks, Levi spoke of JSA president Serge Haber and his countless contributions to the community through the years and of his being one of those honored at the Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation’s Eight Over Eighty (on May 25).
Haber asked everyone to rise for a moment’s silence to mark Yom Hazikaron, commemorating fallen soldiers; he pointed out the Israeli flags in the centre of each flower arrangement, celebrating Israel’s Independence Day. As refreshments prepared by Bagel Club Catering were served by JSA volunteers, Haber thanked those who had convened the forum and emphasized that much of this would not have been possible without the efforts of the amazing staff, Karon Shear and Rita Propp. Shear also took a video of the forum, which will appear on the JSA website.
Herb Calderwood, the afternoon’s musical entertainer, handed out songbooks and charmed the crowd by announcing that he may not know all the songs in the book, as he does not read music, but he asked us to call out our request by number. He delighted us as well with a game of “Name That Tune,” and those who guessed the tune were rewarded with a prize. Door prizes further kept the happiness quotient high and the afternoon came to a happy conclusion, as the audience did indeed leave rewired.
Binny Goldman is a member of the Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver board.
Honoring one’s parents is one of the Ten Commandments. In Judaism, respecting and deferring to our elders is not just a value, it’s the law. That said, the opportunity to honor our elders in front of the entire community doesn’t come around very often. Which is just one of the reasons Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation’s Eight Over Eighty is so unique.
On May 25, noon, in the Great Hall at the Vancouver Law Courts, LBJAF will honor eight individuals/couples in their eighties who all have one thing in common: “They have each led by example.”
Four of the honorees are featured in this article: Dr. Marvin and Rita Weintraub, Rita Akselrod, Dr. Jimmy White and Chaim Kornfeld. Next week’s Jewish Independent will feature profiles of honorees Dr. Arthur and Arlene Hayes, Stan and Seda Korsch, Samuel and Frances Belzberg, and Serge Haber.
“I know the eight and they are wonderful,” event chair Mel Moss told the Independent, noting about the planned celebration, “Eight over Eighty is modern, yet staged in a traditional way. It is a tribute. It is light and bright yet respectful, it is a vibrant, swinging and ‘with it’ event.”
Dvori Balshine, LBJAF director of development, said, “This will be an event that the community has not seen before. People have been saying, ‘What a brilliant idea!’…. We came up with something fresh, in a new place and at a new time of day.” Even the nomination process, she added, was incredibly well received by the community
RITA AND MARVIN WEINTRAUB Books and education
Marvin Weintraub was born in Poland and came as a child to Ontario, where he ultimately received a PhD in plant physiology. Rita (Enushevsky) was raised in southwestern Ontario, near Niagara Falls, and graduated in sociology and philosophy. Both studied at the University of Toronto, where they met. They married soon after.
Settling for a decade in St. Catharines, which at the time had a Jewish population of about 500, together they started an adult education series and Rita launched a Jewish library in the synagogue that doubled as a community centre. Some of the librarians still working at the desk were originally trained by Rita.
“I have great faith in the value of education of all kinds, but particularly for Jewish adults and for youngsters,” said Marvin, who taught in the synagogue’s afternoon school. They both became active in Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and she in National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).
Marvin took a job at the University of British Columbia in 1959 and the young family moved west, immersing themselves in synagogue and community life. Rita became vice-president of Beth Israel Sisterhood and NCJW, taking special interest in global concerns like Vietnamese boat people and Soviet Jewry. She also brought her dedication to adult education, which she championed in Vancouver as she had in Ontario.
Marvin was elected president of Beth Israel and, later, Pacific Region chair of CJC, during which time he focused on addressing challenges of Jewish schools and helping teachers upgrade their skills.
Invited to the USSR in 1968 by the Soviet Academy of Science to lecture on plant virology, Marvin took the opportunity to smuggle in a suitcase filled with tefillin, tzitzit, siddurs and machzors. He attended shul morning and night for a month, using his serviceable Yiddish to identify daveners who could use the items.
In 1973, with Dr. Sid Zbarsky and Dr. Robert Krell, Marvin began the process that would lead to the first professor and program of Judaic studies at UBC, which now has three full-time and one part-time faculty.
In 1978, he was awarded a Queen’s Medal for service to Canadian science.
When the Jewish community centre at Oak and 41st was being designed, Rita convinced planners to set aside space for a Jewish library. Then Marvin set up a lunch between Rita and Sophie Waldman, during which Rita convinced Waldman to memorialize Waldman’s recently deceased husband, Isaac, with a library. Rita remains chair of the Friends of the Waldman Library and the annual fundraising telethon, which she began 20 years ago. She also has been a volunteer with Shalom BC, welcoming newcomers to the local Jewish community.
Of all her achievements, the library holds a special place for Rita. “It’s the focal point of the JCC,” she said.
RITA AKSELROD From tragedy to action
Rita Akselrod’s early experiences were forged by life in Romania, first under the Nazis, then under communism. At seven, she was barred from attending public school because she was Jewish, so a makeshift Jewish school was formed. She and the other Jews in Bacau were forced to wear the yellow star, were subject to curfews and forbidden from assembling in groups. The men in her family were conscripted into forced labor.
By the time Rita was ready for high school, the Russians had taken over and she was taken by her uncles to high school in Bucharest. Her brother wanted to go to university, but the communist regime wanted him in the army, so he fled the country. The rest of the family soon fled also, making their way to Budapest, then trekking through cornfields to an American-controlled zone before landing in a displaced persons camp in Austria.
There, she met “my Ben,” who she recently lost after more than a half-century of marriage. The couple made their way to Israel. But life was difficult in the state’s earliest years, and more so when Rita lost a baby three days after birth. They chose to move and were helped by Leon Kahn, a friend of Ben’s who had settled in Vancouver.
“Leon Kahn sent us papers and we came to Canada,” she said, acknowledging that when she first looked at an atlas, she was alarmed. “I couldn’t believe that we would come to Vancouver when I saw Alaska close by. When I was in Israel and we were corresponding, I said, ‘What’s Vancouver? It’s cold. It’s near Alaska.’ But we did come.”
Kahn set them up in a room in a shared house that had seen many Holocaust survivors and Ben began collecting junk with a horse and buggy, which he would then sell to used-goods dealers. “My husband wasn’t a businessman,” Rita said. “He came from camps and ghettos, he didn’t know the city, he didn’t know the business.”
But the family succeeded, and later sponsored Rita’s parents, brother and his family from Israel.
In 1979, tragedy struck, when the Akselrods’ daughter, Sherry, was killed by a drunk driver. She was a parole officer who had offered to trade shifts on Dec. 26 so a colleague could spend Christmas with family. The loss spurred Rita to bring the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving to British Columbia. She also became involved in grief support, which was taking place in a church.
“I was speaking to a rabbi and said, ‘Can we have it in the Jewish community? Do I have to go to a church?’” Jewish Family Service Agency started a grief support group and Rita attended. Eventually, they asked her to take it over, which she did for many years as a volunteer. As well, she has been actively involved in substance abuse education programs.
She and Ben were founding members of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and, for more than 20 years, Rita coordinated the speakers program, which has allowed tens of thousands of young British Columbians to learn about the Shoah directly from survivors. She is a past president and a life governor of the centre.
She also spent nearly three decades on the board of the Louis Brier, stopping only because she needed to devote more time to Ben when he developed Alzheimer’s. She is immensely proud of her work on denominational health, which ensured that faith-based agencies like the Louis Brier were treated appropriately when the province devolved health delivery to regional boards. A master agreement was signed between the province and the boards, and Rita noted that it “was signed in the Louis Brier, in front of the synagogue, with a priest there and other members of the denominations.”
She is a recipient of the YWCA Women of Distinction Award for community and humanitarian service and, on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she was awarded with honorary Canadian citizenship in Ottawa as a Holocaust survivor who has contributed to Canadian life through remembrance and education.
JIMMY WHITE Make friends with change
Change has been a constant for Jimmy White. He was born in Ohio but the family moved to Saskatchewan during the Depression. His father ran a store before thinking better of it and moving the family to the coast. Jimmy studied at UBC but, since there was no medical school here at the time, he headed to Toronto to become a doctor. While there, he met Beulah and they returned to British Columbia as a married couple.
Jimmy saw even more of Canada through assignments at military hospitals during the war. When peace came, he took up practice downtown and became an institution in the community.
Beulah passed away young, leaving Jimmy and two daughters. He would later marry Miriam Brook, who was widowed with three girls of her own. Sadly, Miriam, too, has since passed away, but Jimmy said he is thrilled to have five daughters.
In addition to his work and family obligations, Jimmy has been a leading voice for Zionism, as an activist in Young Judaea, then the Vancouver Zionist Organization. He was president of the Jewish Community Council (precursor to the Federation) and of the Richmond Country Club. He was a key fundraiser who helped obtain the land for and construct the JCC at Oak and 41st.
These days, he is the head of the residents council at the Weinberg Residence and enjoys yoga, concerts, bridge, art classes, detective novels and debates on politics and language.
The guiding advice of his life came from his mother, he explained. “She said, ‘Make friends with change.’ In her day, there was a horse and buggy. Then the automobile came in. What a big change that automobile made. And now computers and everything! If you don’t make friends with that, you’re left behind. You don’t have to like it, but you have to make friends with it.”
He was amused by a young visitor recently who came to the Weinberg Residence from a Jewish day school. “One of the kids said to me, ‘You’ve had so much change in your lifetime, now there’s no more change left, there’s no more to discover … iPads and iPods,’” Jimmy recalled. “I said, ‘It’s just beginning.’ He said, ‘What else is there to discover?’ I said, ‘That’s exactly what they said when the automobile was invented and when the computer came along. Somebody’s going to invent an antigravity pair of shoes.’”
CHAIM KORNFELD Never give up
Chaim Kornfeld was born in 1926 in a small town in northeastern Hungary, the youngest of eight children. While his father ran a grocery store and his mother managed the large, observant family, Chaim studied at cheder and yeshivah – until 1944. It was at that comparatively late period in the war when the Jews of his town, and of much of Hungary, were placed in ghettoes before being transported to camps.
In May 1944, Chaim was separated from his parents, sisters and grandmother on the platform at Auschwitz. Dr. Josef Mengele sent Chaim to the right and the rest of his family to the left. His father’s last words to Chaim, before he and the others were sent to the gas chambers, were “Never forget that you are a Jew.”
Chaim survived Mauthausen and Gusen, where he worked in an airplane factory. He survived a death march just four days before liberation in May 1945. Of his large family, only Chaim, a sister and two brothers survived. He finished his secondary education in Budapest and was preparing to enter rabbinical school when the Jewish Agency offered him the chance to go to Israel. He leapt at the opportunity, joined the Israeli air force, and was a founding member of Kibbutz Ma’agan. But educational and professional advancement was limited in Israel’s early years and Chaim took his brother up on a sponsorship to Canada.
In Saskatoon, Chaim taught Hebrew school in the afternoons and evenings, while attending university. During this time, he corresponded with a young woman he had met in the Israeli military, Aliza Hershkowitz, and convinced her to join him on the Prairies. Chaim and Aliza would raise four children (a fifth passed away in infancy).
While at the University of Saskatchewan law school, he served as camp director for Camp B’nai B’rith in Pine Lake, Alta. Practising law continuously since 1960, he is proud to be one of the oldest in his profession.
Chaim is a board member, past president and life governor of the Louis Brier Home. He shares his story of survival and accomplishment with students at the annual high school Holocaust symposium and he swims six days a week at the JCC, where he has been a member for 40 years.
For years, he has served as a Torah reader at the Louis Brier synagogue. Responding to the honor of being recognized for his dedication to community, Chaim said he is embarrassed by the fuss. “I don’t look for honor,” he said. “I never looked for kavods.”
His advice for others? “I would advise people – and I still do in my office sometimes – to never give up. That is my motto in life. Whatever comes up, I won’t just lie down and take it.”
He emphasized his enduring love for his wife Aliza and added, “I always come home for dinner.”
Earlier this month, Kaplan’s Deli & Catering at 5775 Oak St. closed. On March 6, there were three signs on the door, one noting that the locks had been changed, and two concerning monies that had to be paid within five days. On March 18, the signs were still there. The doors were still locked. The property management company was continuing its search for new tenants.
Whether or not one frequented the deli, it is sad to see it go. Opened by Ida and Abrasha Kaplan in October 1967, Kaplan’s (with variations on what descriptors followed the name) was a veritable institution in the community. Its opening was heralded with a two-page spread in the Jewish Independent’s predecessor, the Jewish Western Bulletin.
Owners of two Pheasant Delicatessen locations at the time, the Kaplans kept Pheasant’s longstanding 4030 Cambie St. location until, it seems, from the pages of the JWB, April 1969, when it was taken over by Sigy and Molly Robbins. It looks like Pheasant lasted until 1972, when the Pyrogy House starts being advertised in the Bulletin at 4030 Cambie St.
The Kaplans bought Pheasant from Helen and Jack Finkelstein in 1962. The Finkelsteins had owned it since 1952. The for-sale notice the year prior noted the deli’s “good turnover” and “illness reason for selling” – the Finkelsteins bought it from Mrs. Sarah Nager, who seems to have been the first Jewish proprietor of the deli that first appears in the B.C. city directories in 1947.
The Kaplans opened Kaplan’s Delicatessen & Restaurant, “[j]ust a couple of stores over from their former Oak and 41st location (their popular Pheasant Sandwich Bar and Delicatessen),” reads the Oct. 20, 1967, article on the opening. With a seating capacity of 58, the restaurant’s modernity and beauty was lauded, as was its family atmosphere.
In the March 19, 1981, JWB, Mr. and Mrs. Serge Haber ran an ad announcing Kaplan’s new management, and “the introduction of new delicacies from Montreal and Toronto to the already large list available.” As did the Kaplans, Serge and Elinor Haber would run holiday greetings and advertise regularly in the JWB.
In 2000, Haber sold Kaplan’s to Marshall Cramer, in part, Haber told the JWB at the time, because Cramer agreed to keep the staff and run the business as it had been in the past.
Cramer had the store at 5775 Oak St. until 2012, when Howie English took it over. Full of optimism when interviewed by Menschenings’ Alex Kliner, English would not succeed in his hope to “make Kaplan’s the most famous deli in North America.” Unless someone in the community buys the name and reinvents the restaurant, he’ll have been its final owner.