Calgary B’nai Brith Lodge pays posthumous tribute to notable community builders

by Maxine Fischbein

(AJNews) – The 2024 B’nai Brith Dinner takes place April 9 at Beth Tzedec Synagogue. A bittersweet moment at the annual event is the posthumous recognition of individuals once active in the organization and the community. This year’s posthumous honours are dedicated to a particularly notable group of individuals with a track record of giving back to the community. Deeply missed by their families, friends and communities, their legacies endure. Volumes could be written about each of these individuals, though space does not permit.  Here are a few snapshots:

Rudy Berger, who was born and raised in Calgary, built a successful career in Restaurant and hotel management, beginning with a hamburger stand at the Calgary Stampede soon after he graduated from Western Canada High School. Hospitality was the way Rudy made his living and it was his way of life as he lent a helping hand to many Jewish and civic organizations and touched the lives of countless friends. He raised funds for Beth Tzedec as bingo chair, funded a beautifully designed ramp to make the Synagogue’s bimah accessible and organized or worked countless casinos for the Synagogue, Jewish Family Service Calgary and many other local organizations.

A board member of the Calgary Chevra Kadisha, Rudy also played active roles in the Calgary Jewish War Veterans, Post #2, Jewish Family Service Calgary Seniors Shabbat Programs and B’nai Brith Calgary Lodge #816, serving as president of the latter between 1996 and 1999. Rudy helped to organize many a B’nai Brith Dinner and, fittingly, was himself honoured at the 2001 dinner.

Berger also performed many mitzvahs in the community at large, notably as an Inter-Faith Food Bank volunteer, and brought seasonal good cheer to police and firefighters through a Christmas Day B’nai Brith gift basket program.

Caring and generous, Rudy was a popular presence in virtually every corner of the community, especially among the “regulars” at Beth Tzedec and his many friends in the Jewish Seniors Choir.

Rudy passed away on January 2, 2024 at the age of 96.

Manny Cohen, who was born in Calgary and raised there and in Lethbridge, passed away at the age of 90 on September 29, 2020. He no doubt learned self-sufficiency and the importance of community working on his family’s ranches near Pincher Creek and the Little Bow. He went on to become an hotelier in Waterton and Banff and a real estate appraiser in Calgary.

A walking encyclopedia when it came to Jewish history in Southern Alberta, Cohen was a valued board member of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern Alberta and a driving force behind the success of the Little Synagogue on the Prairie project at Heritage Park, where he was an informative and entertaining  docent. Manny’s love of history found its logical extension in his passion for antique cars.

A B’nai Brith member and avid volunteer on behalf of many organizations, Manny enjoyed singing in the Jewish Seniors Choir and regularly attended Shabbat and weekday services at Beth Tzedec. Outgoing and kind, he had a wide circle of friends.

Sucher (Sidney) Cyngiser was born in Lodz and raised in Radom, Poland. His life was forever changed when the Nazis attacked Poland on September 1, 1939. Sidney passed away on June 27, 2023 at the ripe old age of 99. His oft-stated goal had been to retire at the age of 100 from his number one calling: bearing witness to the murder of his entire family and the near destruction of European Jewry. Sid—who was brought to Calgary after the Shoah by his great-aunt, Bella Singer, spoke annually at the Holocaust Education Symposium and at schools and other community organizations throughout Calgary and beyond. He took pride not only in surviving the Holocaust, but in Surviving the Survival (the apt title of his memoirs) with his humanity intact. Sid consistently delivered a message of love and optimism for the future.

Gentle and deeply spiritual, Sid—a successful businessman—regularly attended Beth Tzedec congregation. His melodic chanting of Haftarot will never be duplicated. An active member of B’nai Brith for decades, he served in a variety of capacities including treasurer and vice president. His philanthropy and leadership extended to many other Jewish organizations including The Calgary Jewish Academy, Jewish National Fund, State of Israel Bonds and United Jewish Appeal. A strong believer in the importance of interfaith dialogue, Sid served for many years on the executive of the Calgary chapter of the Canadian Council of Christian and Jews.

A successful businessman, Sid and his widow Bronia—also a survivor—established multiple scholarships devoted to human rights, funded the Holocaust collection at the Mount Royal University Library and established an endowment supporting the Beth Tzedec Congregation Jewish Film Festival. In 2006, Sid received an honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to multiculturalism and Holocaust education.

Jacques Mydlarski, who was born in Paris, passed away on December 31, 2020 at the age of 89. He was only eight years old at the outbreak of World War II. Fortunately, his mother’s frantic efforts to hide her five children led her to Father Théomir Devaux who risked his life by arranging for courageous Christian families to shelter Jacques and his siblings.  All survived the war. Jacques, who became a master tailor, immigrated to Canada in 1957, settling in Calgary, where he eventually opened two tailor shops.

Jacques was a member of B’nai Brith and Beth Tzedec Congregation and shared his personal testimony with students and teachers annually at the Holocaust Education Symposium. One year, even as he was convalescing following surgery, Jacques insisted upon once again speaking at the Symposium.  Despite experiencing a great deal of pain, and having to remain seated throughout his presentation, he made a profound impact on his young audience. As always, Jacques paid tribute to Father Devaux, who saved hundreds of Jewish children.

Jacques was described in his obituary as “an extremely intelligent man with a quick wit who was staunchly proud of his Jewish heritage and French background.

Like all of the 2024 posthumous honourees, Jacques was a family man who took much pride in the achievements of his loved ones.

Ben Docktor has been connected to the good work of B’nai Brith Lodge #816 for such a long time that it has frequently been assumed that the late Calgary oilman and entrepreneur was Jewish. Though he was not, he admired and generously supported Jewish charitable organizations including Chabad-Lubavitch and B’nai Brith, which annually bestows the Ben Docktor Award of Excellence on a deserving community leader.

So proud was Docktor of his support for BB that his family specifically mentioned the organization in his obituary, though it was but one of the organizations that benefited from his largesse.

Docktor, who was born in McClusky, North Dakota, passed away in Scottsdale Arizona on November 1, 2022 at the age of 82. After a brief stint in the US Army, he worked as a roughneck in Wyoming, launching his “lifetime passion” as an oilman. He and his family moved to Calgary in 1973, where he developed successful businesses in oil and gas and transportation and built Race City Speedway. He was later inducted into the Canadian Motor Sports Hall of Fame.

According to his obituary, “Ben was a rising tide, lifting up all those around him.”

The 2024 B’nai Brith Dinner takes place April 9 at Beth Tzedec Synagogue with honourees Dan Balaban and Hillel Neuer. Chabad Alberta Rabbi and Rebbetzin Matazoff are recipients of the Ben Docktor Award of Excellence. Tickets ($350.00) per person can be purchased and donations made at or by calling the B’nai Brith Calgary office at (403) 255-6554.

Maxine Fischbein is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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