Three who make a difference

“Age is just a number” may be a cliché, but it is also a powerful affirmation of three residents at three area Jewish facilities who have touched so many people.

The life experiences of Deborah Friend, Marvin Bernstein and Abe Henselyn may have been dramatically different, but they are united by the simple and profound joy of helping others in varying ways.

Deborah Friend, once a caterer and owner of art galleries in Carmel, underwent “a complete metamorphosis” when she moved to the Jewish Home in San Francisco.

“I said I’d never learn the computer,” said Friend, who now uses one regularly.

Her life has also changed because she developed Parkinson’s disease. “I said I’d never join a support group, and I created one for those with Parkinson’s.” She now facilitates the monthly Parkinson’s support group and arranges all the speakers.

“Deborah broke out of the mold,” said Ilana Glaun, communication coordinator for the Jewish Home. “She hasn’t come here to see out her days. She is very dynamic and energetic.”

Friend dedicates the bulk of her time to creating a Parkinson’s commemorative stamp to aid awareness of the disease and an eventual cure. She even designed a logo: a couple dancing — “a sign of hope.”

She volunteers three times a week as a cashier in the Home’s cafe, and took up sculpting six months ago at the age of 77. “But I’ll consider my work done if the stamp happens. I try to think in terms of when, not if.”

Marvin Bernstein is a gentle and benevolent soul at the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville. A former president of the B’nai Brith chapter of Silicon Valley, Lodge 2405, and an ex-board member at Congregation Beth David in Saratoga, Bernstein volunteered to be the head of the residents’ council on a trial basis. He offered “because as you go through life, you should make some type of contribution to helping others,” said Bernstein, 79, widowed since early 2003 after 51 years of marriage.

A retired sales manager at Clairol, he recognizes the importance of the residents’ council, as an outlet for the community to convey ideas to improve the quality of life at the residence, and to share their concerns with the administration and board.

“Being the head of the residents’ council is interesting because I get to listen to everyone’s stories,” said Bernstein, who has survived bladder cancer. “That has given me a lot of enjoyment. People here are from all walks of life, so it’s been a wonderful opportunity to meet and get to know everyone.”

After all,”When we look back on our lives,” said the Omaha, Neb., native, “it will warm our hearts to know that we were able to take pride in our accomplishments and help those in need.”

Abe Henselyn helps those in need at Rhoda Goldman Plaza in San Francisco. Utilizing his sharp organizational skills, honed from years as a food broker in the import-export business, he stepped in to assist the nascent residents’ council. “I felt that the first meeting wasn’t going too well,” said Henselyn, who was born in the Netherlands and lost 90 percent of his family, including his parents, during the Holocaust. “So I wrote out thoughts as to what should be done. And that’s been pretty much followed. I like to facilitate. But I don’t want to manage things too much.”

His main goal has been to help people with their problems and create a dynamic social life at Rhoda Goldman Plaza. “You live not as a paying guest, but as a member of a community,” he said. He bartends weekly cocktail parties and oversees a bridge group of 12 to 16 people.

“If you keep to yourself,” he said, “you only have half a life.”

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.