Remembering Rabbi Berkal
Obituary by the Berkal Family
The angels must be pleased that Louis Berkal has finally returned to his place in heaven - as he himself was heaven sent! Can there be any doubt that this fine individual has left such a void – not only in the hearts of his family but in the community at large?
He is finally reunited with his beloved soul mate Sara (Ginsberg) of some 70 years. They were inseparable – until Sara passed away on March 1st, 2009. Even then, when they were apart for almost 8 months, Louis who suffered from Alzheimer’s would ask for her often. Just in the last 2 weeks prior to his death, he said with such clarity: “I haven’t seen Sara for so long and I miss her terribly!” She and “Lapidus” (as she lovingly called him) are together again and may they be remembered as kindred spirits forever.
Thousands of people who “Louis” (answering to “Rabbi”) encountered and helped through various life cycle events, remember him fondly for the fine and gentle soul he was. He made us feel safe and valued. It was like people were flowers and he was the sun - we just naturally turned to him and opened up.
From humble roots his life began in a small “shtetl” (Jewish village) in Lithuania in 1914. Born to Shimon and Sara Berkal (Shapiro), sadly his mother died when Louis was only 3 and this left a void within him his entire life. But his father remarried and his new wife Hennah Eidelman along with her children Morris and Bella joined the Berkal nuclear family of Abe, Sammy and Doris.
In 1927, as a young boy of 13 he travelled to Canada, along with his relatives and other immigrants escaping persecution and poverty in Europe. His brother Abe and his sister Doris were sent earlier and worked hard to save enough money to bring the rest of the family over. Louis was always grateful for their efforts.
A Cherished Tradition
Rabbi Louis Berkal
with the Shaarey Zedek Choir (1999)
Director: Bonnie Antel
Pianist and Arranger: Mitchell Parks
> For more information about the CD, click here
This text will be replaced by the flash music player.
At an early age, Louis displayed a talent for singing and found his place in synagogue along with his father who was also a Rabbi. He received his “smichot” papers to practice as a clergy from Rabbi Kahanovitch. Then in 1938 he left Winnipeg to go south for his first position in Grand Forks, North Dakota at B’Nai Israel Synagogue. It was here that he met the love of his life, Sara Ginsberg, daughter of the shule’s president. In 1939, they married and as a couple worked for that congregation for the next 16 years. The Berkals left an everlasting impression on the Jewish community in Grand Forks.
In 1954, with their two children, they moved to Winnipeg, where Louis took on a new position at Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, as cantor and assistant rabbi. This was a much larger congregation and placed new demands on Louis who would serve this community over the next 50 years, officiating at and conducting thousands of bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, funerals, conversions, High Holiday services, legion gatherings, interfaith meetings, leisure group luncheons, and condolence calls. He worked tirelessly and with tremendous devotion to the congregation.
Rabbi Berkal was a constant at Shaarey Zedek. Over the many years, he would fill in for rabbis who had come and gone and would be responsible for all clergy and cantorial functions for a congregation of a thousand families. One cannot imagine how he carried on these responsibilities serving his congregants almost seamlessly. At home he had two more children and so the demands must have been overwhelming. But Rabbi Berkal was never one to complain. He faced life with optimism and joy!
Our Dad lived a humble life residing in the same modest house for some 54 years and only leaving it the same day together with his Sara. Regrettably, she returned to St.Boniface hospital while Louis took up residence at the Simkin Center. Sara passed away on March 1st and Louis followed her on Monday, October 19th after a lengthy illness, passing away at the Victoria Hospital.
He saw only the good in people and his gentle nature made him likeable to all. Family was so important to him and he treasured his relationships with his siblings: Abe (Hilda), Sammy (Clara), Doris (Hymie Margolis), Morris (Sophie) and Bella (Jack Aaron). Dear to him as well were his in- laws: Mildred and David Kessler, Becka and Irwin Hackner and Ben and June Ginsberg. And then there are the many nieces and nephews, close neighbors, friends and colleagues.
Louis leaves behind a legacy so huge! He loved to sing and filled the synagogue with music that he shared with his special choirs over the years. Concerts within the community and outside the sanctuary were always accompanied by Mitch Parks his pianist and close friend for many years, who predeceased him. Louis’ voice was like none other and his congregation cherished his rendition of the Kol Nidre prayer, which solidified his connection to a higher power. Even in his last days on earth, our Dad could be touched by singing familiar Jewish songs with him.
A special note of mention goes out to marvelous Marie Borgess-Boltd, who extended herself as a special caregiver and friend to both Sara and Louis, these past 4½ years. Without her loving help, our parents would not have been able to stay in the home which they loved for so long. After Sara died, Marie had to help the Rabbi continue on without his partner and deal with the transition to a nursing home. Marie always did this with the utmost respect and honor and is surely feeling the loss as we are. Without her, we could never have dealt with all we have been handed and our gratitude extends beyond mere words.
Other caregivers who cannot be forgotten are: Ingrid, Olivia, Alexis, Anna, Cecelia, Vicky and Carly.
A special thanks goes out to Walter Stern for providing rides for the Rabbi, Allen Stern for his visits to both Brock Street and the Simkin Centre and to Rabbi Green.
There were many in the medical field, both doctors, nurses and aids, who helped our father over the years and too many to mention – we thank you for your care and assistance.
Louis leaves behind one daughter, Harriet Berkal (Larry Sarbit) and three sons: Harvey (Judy), Ben (Shirley Labman) and Allan (Sandy) as well as nine grandchildren who live on in his memory: Sophie and Manny, Ariel and David, Josh and Erin and Daniel, Adina and Sherri, each leaving their own mark on Louis’ life.
Hundreds of people attended funeral services, held at Shaarey Zedek Synagogue on Thursday, October 22, with internment at Shaarey Zedek Cemetary. Pallbearers were: Aubrey and Evan Margolis, Marlon Slutchuk, Yale Chochinov, Bill Weissman and Kinsey Posen. The family thanks Rabbi Alan Green for his kind words in which he recounted stories of Rabbi Berkal’s lifetime devotion to helping others.
Donations in Louis’s name can be made to Jewish Child and Family Services or to a charity of your choice.
Dad- you are a very hard act to follow! You live on through your music which we will listen to and hear your sweet voice again. We will always think of you when we eat french fries (your favorite), fly kites, watch Star Trek, and enjoy the beauty of nature. You have left a vast void in our hearts and the hearts of many. May your soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life - and may we say AMEN.
Goodbye our dearest Father, Rabbi and kind soul.
Published on November 07, 2009 in the Winnipeg Free Press. Provided by the family of Rabbi Louis Berkal.