A cherished volunteer: Bill Aizanman OBM

by Harold Lipton and Suan Dvorkin

(Calgary) – When John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as President in 1961, he famously stated “Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”  The same can be said for one’s community and especially our Jewish community.  At a time when many organizations are scrambling to find more volunteers, a dedicated and longstanding volunteer is to be cherished.  One such volunteer was Bill Aizanman, of blessed memory.

Bill was president of Chevra Kadisha of Calgary for twenty five years, a feat rivalled by few.  He was laid to rest March 7, and at his funeral, his daughter eulogized him.  She said she once asked her father why he was so dedicated to the Chevra and he told her that when his time came, he hoped there would be somebody there to give him a proper Jewish burial.  Many present and past Chevra board members and McInnis and Holloway employees were in attendance at the funeral, which illustrates the relationships Bill formed with the people around him, and the respect he earned from them.

Volunteers at the Chevra Kadisha say they do their work as “chesed shel emet”, deeds of loving kindness, because there is no possibility of repayment from the deceased.  Over time, this concept has been extended so that volunteers do not expect acknowledgement for their work, though they are feted once annually by the Chevra at a special lunch or dinner.   So what motivates these volunteers to continue with their invaluable work and what should motivate others to join them?  Perhaps Bill’s response to his daughter holds one answer.  Potential volunteers for any Jewish organization, whether the Chevra or a synagogue or a Jewish school or a service for the disadvantaged, might consider that the time may come when they or their family will need these services, and volunteering now helps ensure that these services will remain available.  Bill was proud of the service the Chevra provides to all members of the Jewish community, regardless of affiliation or financial means, and he promoted that throughout his unequalled tenure as president.

Throughout Bill’s service to the Chevra, he endeared himself to his fellow volunteers and the community through his selfless commitment.  Not given to special recognition or flowery speeches, Bill was more likely to be seen at a funeral helping to organize the burial process or donning a fluorescent vest to direct traffic in and out of the chapel grounds.  When Bill chaired a meeting, things got done and done quickly.  Board members affectionately recount that Bill taught them never to be late for a meeting, because if they arrived more than ten minutes late, the meeting was likely nearing its conclusion, and the cookies he often provided would be long gone.

We live in an era when political correctness is the order of the day.  Not so for Bill.  When Bill gave an opinion on something, you knew exactly where he stood.  This steadfastness and forthrightness marked Bill’s life.  After losing his wife Lynne of blessed memory many years ago, Bill moved on with his life without complaint, as his daughter stated at his funeral.  His dedication to his children, and later his grandchildren, and his commitment to his community work continued without hesitation. Even in his retirement, he was known to occasionally phone a Chevra executive member and ask how things were going or what was happening about some issue.  Bill took the time to get to know the people around him, and to thank them whenever they did something for him.

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) speaks of the significance of a good name.  Several years ago, Bill was presented most appropriately with a Shem Tov (good name) award by Calgary Jewish Federation to honour him for his work.   A mensch like Bill is not forgotten, and his memory will indeed be a blessing.  May his life and good name also be an inspiration to others about the importance of volunteering to ensure the ongoing presence of needed services.    Bill had retired from active service several years ago, but his legacy of commitment to the mitzvah of looking after families at their time of greatest need will endure.

May the Almighty comfort his family among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Be the first to comment on "A cherished volunteer: Bill Aizanman OBM"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.