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April 05, 1991 - Image 69

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-04-05

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Everyone from widowers to the disabled
finds a friend in Neil Kalet

ident of the men's club; his
wife was active in the
sisterhood. Mr. Kalef also
held numerous leadership
positions, including secre-
tary and vice president, with
B'nai B'rith Brandeis Lodge.
Often responsible for
planning B'nai B'rith pro-
grams, he once booked
Lebanese entertainer Danny
Thomas, who charged $15
for an evening performance.
"I thought he was Jew-
ish," Mr. Kalef says now,
In 1979, Mr. Kalef was
named Israel Bonds Man of
the Year. Numerous plaques
from B'nai B'rith and B'nai
David hang on his wall.
When he's honored, Mr.
Kalef asks, "Why?" He
doesn't think his volunteer
work deserves any special
While Mr. Kalef was work-
ing at Chrysler, B'nai David
began its move from
Elmhurst and Fourteenth
streets to its current location
on Southfield Road. Mr.
Kalef took it upon himself to
make sure the synagogue's
Sefer- Torahs arrived safely
at their new home.
He convinced Chrysler to
lend the congregation 12
convertibles. Into each was
placed a Torah. With drivers
from Chrysler at the helm,
the cars traveled one after
another from Detroit to
Southfield, "like a parade,"
Mr. Kalef says. "Those are
the kinds of things I like to
As a member of the B'nai
David building committee,
Mr. Kalef worked tirelessly
to help complete the new
synagogue. It took him away
from home three nights a
week and on Sunday. -
"My wife used to get exas-
perated with me," he ad-
Esther Kalef became seri-
ously ill in 1983. Her hus-
band quit his job to care for
her, which he did until her
death in 1985.
Two months after Esther
died, a friend approached
Mr. Kalef and suggested he

volunteer for Meals on
Wheels. The idea appealed
to him.
"There are a lot of poor
widows or widowers in
wheelchairs or with walkers
and canes who can't just go
out to the store and buy
things," he says of the pro-
ject. "Then here you come
and bring a meal five times a
week. If it wasn't for that,
some of these people
wouldn't eat."
"Next I got talking to
somebody about working as
a volunteer at Sinai," he
says. The hospital needed
visitors for residents of the
psychiatric ward, who meet
weekly for lunch and go on
outings several times a year.
Mr. Kalef immediately
volunteered. Today, he says
of the program "I just love
Since 1986, he has worked
twice each week setting up
lunch for and visiting with
the patient's. They play cards
and dominoes and checkers.
He also has taken . the
residents on picnics and to
the zoo, played baseball with
them and helped organize
"I don't look at them as pa-
tients," he adds. "I look at
them as people. I guess they
have a good feeling about me
that way."
The widowers who
regularly enjoy Friday night
dinner at Mr. Kalef's home
have a good feeling about
him, too. Mr. Kalef admits
he's "a damn good cook — so
they say," and loves to
prepare Shabbat meals for
those who might otherwise
find themselves facing a TV
dinner. Any leftovers are
placed in doggie bags for the
men to take home.
"My wife taught me," Mr.
Kalef says of his cooking.
His specialties: chicken,
fruit compote and chicken
soup with extra-large mat-
•ah balls.
The son of an ardent
Zionist father, Neil Kalef
visited Israel in 1968 and
1974. In 1987, he returned
with the Volunteers for

Neil Kalef at Sinai
Hospital, where he
volunteers twice weekly
with residents of the
psychiatric ward.

Neil Kalef at Sinai Hospital, where he volunteers twice weekly with
residents of the psychiatric ward.

Israel program. For three
months he lived in Netanya,
where he taught English to
high school students.
"I'd ask questions, that
was my job," he says. Then
he would correct students'
grammar and teach them
English idioms.
On the last day of school,
he received a goodbye gift, a
Haggadah, on which they
wrote this dedication:
"You'll never be forgotten,
neither by the children nor
by us, the English teachers."
When not teaching in
Israel, Mr. Kalef vol-
unteered for the Jewish Na-
tional Fund, where he
helped plant and trim trees.
Other men and women

helped on the projects, but
Mr. Kalef believes he was
the most senior JNF vol-
Most recently, Mr. Kalef
began corresponding with a
prisoner through B'nai
B'rith. The prisoner's letters
frequently focus on ques-
tions about Judaism, which
Mr. Kalef dutifully answers.
Mr. Kalef believes his in-
terest in the prisoner, the
Sinai residents and the el-
derly men and women he
meets through Meals on
Wheels, is a tradition he in-
herited from his parents.
"I remember whenever a
Jewish person came to the
city, we always had him at
our house," he says. "When

a stranger needed
somewhere to sleep, my
brothers and I tripled up in
bed so there would be a place
for the guest."
The Kalef parents also
were determined that their
children be committed to
studies. As soon as they
came home from school,
Neil, his brothers and sisters
sat at the kitchen table and
did their homework. At
night, Rabbi Kalef taught
his sons Torah.
"I remember not only stu-
dying the Torah, but my
father telling me what it
said about living and help-
ing others," Mr. Kalef says.
"That's the most important
part." D

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