Daddy's Legacy

May 9, 2009

7 min read


A moving tribute to Mr. Joe Berman, a great Jewish leader, philanthropist, husband and father.

Joe Berman, of blessed memory, was a pillar in the Toronto Jewish community and a moving force behind many organizations working to better the world and to strengthen the Jewish people. Mr. Berman was instrumental in starting the Aish HaTorah branch in Toronto, as well as the national Discovery seminar. He passed away Dec. 10, 2003, at the age of 81. The following letter is written by his daughter, Shellie.

Dear Daddy,

I am so proud of you. I just returned home from an Aish HaTorah event commemorating your shloshim [30-day mourning period]. I learned a lot about you. It was typical that you didn't talk about your accomplishments.

The evening started with the boys from Nefesh Dovid Yeshiva, the yeshiva for hearing impaired and deaf boys, the yeshiva that you helped start, the only one of its kind in the world. We all participated in a celebration marking their completion of a tractate of Talmud. I could just picture you up in heaven with tears running down your cheeks. You would have been so proud of those boys. You gave them the opportunity to learn, and the fact that they are succeeding so wonderfully was a joy to behold.

The evening progressed with a video address by Rabbi Noah Weinberg, dean of Aish HaTorah, and Rabbi Shalom Schwartz. They spoke about how you sponsored Aish long before you yourself got involved in learning Torah. They spoke about what a visionary you were, how you could buy into other peoples dream and make that dream a reality.

Rav Noah said that he fell in love with you before he even met you. He remembered calling you up to ask for a meeting decades ago when he was doing some work for a yeshiva here in Toronto. You, an incredibly successful businessman, said that you'd meet him, and then asked where you should go? You decided to meet him at the yeshiva because you knew he was a busy man. So typical of you.

Rabbi Schwartz remembered meeting with you in the late 70s. When he gave you his proposal to start one of the first Aish HaTorah branches, you said that you wouldn't commit until after you had a meeting with a rabbi that afternoon to discuss priorities in giving tzedaka [charity]. Imagine, 10 years before you became religious, you knew enough to discuss the importance of giving tzedaka properly with a Torah giant – Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, zt'l.

Rabbi Schwartz also remembers that every time he met with you and thanked you for your help, you would then say, "Why are you thanking me? I want to thank you! For without your work, I would never have gotten to participate in this mitzvah." Dad, what a way to make someone comfortable in fundraising.

Of course they talked about your brilliant mind, your humbleness, your willingness to listen, to guide, to plan for the future and to help.

Rabbi Yaakov Salomon then gave a terrific class on The Art of Jewish Leadership, because many feel your leadership qualities are your defining ones. He discussed the ethical will (Click here to read Mr. Berman's ethical will.) you left us and how each point was made like a true leader. For example, you talk about making your house a home, an oasis of faith, tranquility, light and warmth. But you didn't leave it at that. You then told us to make sure our homes are examples for others to follow.

Your ethical will spoke about taking action – you said it is evil to be indifferent. You gave us the legacy to share – our feelings, joys, sorrows and blessings. In your words "sharing is caring and its material implementation is tzedaka. Communicate not only by speaking but also by listening. Listen for silences and for pauses, for these express as much as words." Dad, you were such as listener – when anyone spoke to you, they knew they had your undivided attention.

Rabbi Joe Kelman discussed how you changed the disabled community – your interest and financial involvement in the Reena Foundation, a foundation for disabled children who didn't fit anywhere else. I remember when you heard about a Jewish disabled girl who had to go to a Christian camp for the blind, even though she could see, because there was no place for her. You had to help. You also built a camp for those kids and were instrumental in setting up group homes across the city so that these kids could be integrated into society.

Dad, so many nice things were said about you.

I think that one thing that wasn't really discussed was how you saw the essence of God in every single person you met. You knew the names of all the employees of your construction company – and the site sweeper was as important to you as your partners. When you and mom built the huge house, the first party you gave was for everyone who worked on the home – from the architect to the bricklayer. You personally greeted every single man and gave his wife a rose. What a mensch.

I remember when you casually mentioned to the attendant who pumped your gas that you were moving downtown, and he started to cry. Imagine – he was so upset because his 'friend' was leaving. We received a letter during the shiva from another good 'friend' of yours – the man who worked on your car. Daddy, I never knew you had him over for dinner, gave him a tour of the house, showed him a sefer Torah because he was interested in it and you always shared a Torah thought with him whenever you saw him. You just cannot get more down to earth than that.

Mom will miss the love notes you left beside her morning coffee every day of your married life.

Daddy, it goes without saying that even though you were a sublime success in the corporate and charity worlds, you were an outstanding example of what a true daddy should be. You always had time for all the kids and grandkids and we always came first. We all knew you loved us the best!!! You were there to share, not only every milestone, but also every great book, class or even thought.

However, as was mentioned tonight – and we kids knew it and anyone who knew you knew it – Mom was the crown jewel. You made her Queen and through her, you became a King.

Mom will miss the love notes you left beside her morning coffee every day of your married life. She has framed the following one, the one you left her this summer:

"I don't know where I'll be on your birthday so I am celebrating it early. No matter where I am, I'll be the wind in your hair, the sunbeam that caresses your face, the smile that's on a baby's face. I was given life so that I could be your husband and your friend. The earth stays in orbit because of you. I will miss you and will love you until the end of eternity."

You are leaving such a legacy. If we would only strive to emulate a portion of the greatness you lived, we would all make this world a better place. Daddy, I really miss you – there is a void where you once stood. I love you.

Click here to read an article about Mr. Berman in the Globe and Mail.

In loving memory of my grandparents
Kermit and Elsie Artzt
and my grandfather Nuttel ben Moishe.
Next Steps