Jews serve up Christmas dinner in Halifax

Debbie Novack, left, serves dinner to Pat, centre, and Helena at Spencer House in Halifax on Dec. 25.

On a crisp, clear Christmas morning, a bevy of Jews gathered at a Halifax seniors’ centre, to prepare and serve a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

For the seventh year in a row, it was time to share good feelings with a non-denominational community by greeting, entertaining and feeding more than two dozen men and women over 65 years of age.

The guests relished the attention and friendship shown by the volunteers from the Atlantic Jewish Council (AJC). Otherwise, they might have been home alone, with no place to go. Their centre, which is usually open for social activities and a hot lunch five days a week, would have been dark.

Schuyler Smith, left, and Myrna Yazer prepare plates for a Christmas dinner served to seniors in Halifax on Christmas Day.

Schuyler Smith recalls when the AJC program started: “I was working at the AJC as a volunteer and literally had nothing to do at Christmas. I thought we should do a volunteer event, mentioned it to Edna (LeVine, the centre’s director of community engagement) and she got the ball rolling.”

LeVine said the administrators at Spencer House were thrilled that someone would take such an initiative. Jewish volunteers quickly responded.

For the first time this year, LeVine was given the keys to the centre – to open and close Spencer House, enabling all the staff to be at home on Christmas.

Myrna Yazer volunteered the first year and quickly moved into the kitchen – “Where I usually gravitate,” she said with a smile. She volunteers for Beth Israel Synagogue, where she is a major contributor to latke, challah and hamantashen bakes.

While giving directions in Spencer House’s kitchen, Yazer said that, “This year, I made home-made cranberry sauce, stuffing and a Christmas cake. Then, in this kitchen, we made mashed potatoes, squash, gravy, cooked frozen peas and, of course, roasted the turkey. People brought in candy and chocolates, we offered smoked salmon with cream cheese on crackers as an appetizer, plus fruit punch, tea and coffee. As our guests left, each was given a gift bag.”

Flutist Linda Schroeder and pianist Mort Fels played Christmas carols and other holiday melodies, to which the guests and volunteers sang along.

Linda Schroeder, front left, and Mort Fels, front tight, provide music as volunteers Roy Argand, back left, and Nicole Heelan lend vocal support at a Christmas dinner for seniors in Halifax on Dec. 25.

“I love to share music,” said Schroeder. “Any type, whatever people like to hear.… This is such a nice gesture for (Jewish) people to make.”

Guest Maurice McGaffney took a turn at the piano. The 75-year-old has been a cruise ship and cabaret pianist for years.

“It’s so wonderful what you do,” he said to a volunteer. “Pitching in on the piano for a few minutes is the least I could do for this lovely meal.”

There were 30 meals served, plus half a dozen home deliveries. More than 20 volunteers assisted and several more offered, but were not needed.

“What’s better than this?” Smith asked as he gazed upon the many smiling faces – both guests and volunteers. “Maybe it’s time to branch out to another location. Our volunteers bring family and friends, so it’s a program we could expand.”

With full bellies and a glow from the AJC’s generosity, the guests departed.
With warm hearts, the volunteers cleaned up and LeVine locked the door.