Calgary Chevra Kadisha: 113 years and growing strong

Chevra Kadisha of Calgary — Annual Volunteer Dinner — Adar 7, 5780 — March 3, 2020. Left to Right: Daniel Shiminow, Sam Gutman, Darlene Switzer-Foster, Louis Bracey (President), Rick Pollick (Executive Director), Harold Lipton, William Aizanman, Ted Switzer, Darryl Gurevitch, Susan Dvorkin, Laurence Davis, Rochel Matusof, Halley Girvitz, Harvey Rabin. Absent: Herb Rosenberg, Izak Paul, Bernard Magidson, Labie Doctor.

By Susan Dvorkin and Harold Lipton

On March 3, corresponding to the 7th of Adar, the traditional yahrzeit for Mosesz”l, the Calgary Chevra Kadisha held its 105th annual dinner honouring its volunteers.  Approximately, seventy people, almost all volunteers or their partners, were in attendance as the Chevra thanked its volunteers and honoured two individuals for their service.

William Aizanman was recognized for his 25 years of service as president, and he was honoured by being named Honourary Life President.  Mr. Aizanman thanked all of the people he has worked with over the years.  He assured everyone the Chevra will always be close to his heart, and he will remain close to the Chevra.

Louis Bracey, who is retiring as Executive Director, was recognized for his compassionate efforts over the past nine years.  Mr. Bracey will take over as President of the Society.

This was the first event for incoming Executive Director, Rick Pollick, who took over January 1st.  Mr. Pollick is transitioning into his new role, and he is expected to continue with the same compassion for bereaved families that has been the hallmark of the Society for the past number of years.

Rabbi Binyomin Halpern was guest speaker at the dinner. Central to his presentation was encouragement to individuals to make end of life preparations, including creating personal directives, to ensure that one’s wishes are known and surviving family members are relieved from having to make many decisions in their time of grief.

A new executive and board was recently voted into office, and most appear in the photo alongside this article.

The Chevra Kadisha, now in its 113th year of service, remains one of the few such organizations in North America whose services are provided almost exclusively by volunteers, including the manufacture of hand sewn shrouds.  The volunteers come together as a community, regardless of their personal beliefs or levels of observance, to maintain the centuries old tradition of preparing the deceased for their final journey with the utmost respect and dignity.  Unlike most other larger Jewish communities, the Calgary Chevra provides preparation and burial services to the entire Jewish community regardless of religious affiliation.

Over the past number of years, the Chevra has progressed in the modernization of its operations and in its succession planning.  Currently, it is facing the corona virus concern by maintaining and increasing its safety standards for the protection of its volunteers.  It has access to medical consultation and education to identify where additional practices may be implemented.

The Chevra seeks to reassure the community that every effort is being made to keep current with growing knowledge about the current health concern. Readers are encouraged to access the Alberta Health Website at for up to date accurate information on the corona virus and strategies for prevention and treatment.

The services of the Chevra are considered chesed shel emet, deeds of true kindness, in that they are freely given with no expectation of repayment.  Public recognition is usually not sought, and the annual dinner is the sole occasion where its volunteers are recognized for their selfless contributions.

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