Presenting: Arie Nerman and the Beach Hebrew Institute – The People’s Synagogue

Arie Nerman is a quiet, modest man. He does not talk much about himself; about his personal life he simply shares that he used to be in the advertising industry and also taught at Seneca College. For his extensive work in the community Arie Nerman has received several awards, including the Beaches/East York Citizen of the Year, and a tribute to his contributions has been immortalized in the Millenium Walk of Fame in Woodbine Park, right next to other important honour recipients such as Gene Domagala, Glenn Cochrane and Marie Perrotta.

At the Beach Synagogue the drop-ins are attended by 30 to 35 individuals on average. Some of the locals also drop by to socialize and mix with people. The doors are open to anyone and religion is not involved at all with the exception of special events on high holidays such as Christmas and Hannukah. At Thanksgiving special lunches are served, and the regular weekly lunches include soup, sandwiches and a dessert. Volunteers in various congregations add their own special touches to the lunches, sometimes in the forms of cakes or home-made casseroles. During the summer barbecues are held occasionally as well.

Beautiful stained glass

The drop-in lunches have now been held for about 6 years and they always take place from 11 to 1 pm. At the Beach Hebrew Institute there are approximately four regular volunteers while some of the other locations may have as many as eight volunteers.

During the drop-in I even bumped into my friend Gene Domagala who I had interviewed a couple of weeks earlier. Gene, another tireless volunteer, regularly helps with picking up the food from different locations, sometimes from private corporations, at other times from Toronto’s Daily Bread Foodbank.

As Arie was busy with the patrons, Gene introduced me to another interesting individual: Paul Mandell, who is a regular contributor at Centre 55, a local community centre dedicated to the welfare of Beach residents.

Paul Mandell and Gene Domagala, two Beach volunteers

Paul has been running a promotions business since 1996 the idea for which started with a meeting with Paul’s father during which his father spilled some coffee. In a sudden flash of insight, Paul decided to create cleaning rags, a particularly fortunate idea since he had been offered a whole shipment of unsold diapers which he ended up buying and refunctioning into cleaning rags. These were then sold to various property management companies, who incidentally expressed an interest in uniforms, which meant that Paul Mandell moved into the uniform business as well. Ever the consummate entrepreneur Paul also moved into the promotional items business and customized embroidery.

But not only is Paul a gifted salesman and entrepreneur, he also has a heart for the community. His local bank manager connected him to Centre 55, and ever since then Paul has regularly donated prizes for the organization’s golf tournament, an important fundraiser. He has also been running the putting contest. Over the last few years he even got more involved and wanted to generate additional funds to help feed people. He donated 640 hot dogs for the barbecue during the Beaches Jazz Festival and worked at the event as well. The barbecue has become a regular part of the Jazz Festival and now raises even more funds for local community programs. Gene was joking that Paul was the recipient of one of the coveted Centre 55 jackets, an item he would love to get his hands on too considering his extensive volunteer work at Centre 55.

Paul Mandell with the coveted Centre 55 jacket

I then had a chance to reconnect with Arie who mentioned that he has been the President of the Beach Hebrew Institute for many years and that he truly enjoys his community work. He also teaches children about Jewish traditions as well as Hebrew reading skills for their bar / bat mitzvahs. He describes his congregation as eclectic, and it includes all kinds of professions and people from all walks of life. Arie said that he needs to continually upkeep the membership so that the congregation can maintain this beautiful building.

As we were talking around 25 to 30 regulars were enjoying their lunches, sitting down in the community room in the basement of the Beach Synagogue. The lunch today included a vegetable soup, various kinds of sandwiches, and a diverse spread of desserts, including baked goods and fresh fruit. The atmosphere was friendly and it looked like people have known each other for a long time.

Arie and Celia are ready to serve some soup

I also had a chance to talk to Celia Gould, another volunteer who has been helping out with the drop-in for about four years now. Celia comes in every Wednesday at 9 am and helps prepare the food in the upstairs kitchen which gets carried downstairs into the community room. Other ladies drop by from other churches to help with the food preparation and they are usually gone by 10:30 am. From 11 am onwards the guests come in and start to enjoy their meals.

Celia explained that the soup usually comes packaged in frozen buckets from the Food Bank, sometimes it is delivered in cans as well. The meals are always fresh and highly nutritious. Celia has been living in the Beach since 1987 and enjoys the neighbourhood, particularly since you can get everywhere without needing a car. Her kids have gone to school in this neighbourhood. She enjoys volunteering and appreciates that Arie includes her. She finds the drop-in a very wholesome activity and enjoys the interaction with the local seniors who help with the food preparation.

Some of the volunteers are in their nineties, and they are all regulars. Celia herself hardly ever misses a Wednesday and loves to support the drop-in program. She says Arie is their hero and she is very proud to know him.

I bet many of the regulars at the drop-in feel the same way.

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