TORONTO — Harvey Joseph was one of the Jewish community’s most passionate volunteers.
But one would never know it, due to his humble nature and desire to stay out of the spotlight.
Joseph, a lawyer, passed away on Oct. 28, after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 72.
His son, Adam, told The CJN that his father was a “very modest guy who did not like being the centre of attention.”
He said he would not have wanted anyone to focus on what he did for the community. Instead, he said, Harvey would have preferred talking about how the community and family affected him.
In a eulogy that was jointly read at his funeral by Adam and his two sisters, Melissa and Jennifer, his children recalled how their father was a devoted family man.
“He was never shy to tell us that he was proud of us, proud of the adults we had become, the spouses we had chosen and, most of all, he relished his eight grandchildren,” Adam said.
He took an active role in his children’s and grandchildren’s development as people and Jews, teaching them to water-ski – Harvey was an expert water-skier, Melissa recalled – ride a bike and skate and to value tzedakah.
Melissa remarked on her father’s modest nature.
“My father… never focused on what was remarkable in himself. Maybe he never even saw it. Frankly, that humility was part of his gift,” she said. “Even toward the end of his days, when we told him how amazing all the things he did in his life was, he couldn’t see it. He was humble to the end.”
Harvey was greatly affected by his experience growing up Jewish in Kitchener, Ont., and maturing during his teenage years at Camp Ogama in Huntsville, Ont. – now Camp Winnebago – where he truly began connecting with his Judaism and first met his bashert, Marsha, his children said.
His love of family and the wider Jewish community was evident to all.
“My father was not strictly observant in his practice, but he gifted to his three children the knowledge and practice of observant Judaism,” Melissa said. “He valued the rituals, the Shabbat dinners and holidays, and always remarked that he adored all of the wonderful family time that came with it.”
Even though he was not overt about his charitable activities in the community, Harvey was as dedicated to tikkun olam as anyone, Adam said.
The family noted that he generously donated his time to numerous Jewish causes and institutions, both here and in Israel.
He was president of the board of United Synagogue Day School, served on the boards of Ben-Gurion University and of Beit Halochem Canada, where he served as the organization’s first president.
Joseph’s work with the university stemmed from his belief that the future of the country lay in the potential of the Negev, his wife said.
And working with Beit Halochem really “opened his eyes” to the trials and tribulations of an Israeli soldier’s life, Melissa said.
As a result, he became an ambassador for the disabled in the community and often hosted IDF soldiers brought to Canada by the nonprofit group to speak at Jewish institutions.
“He believed in supporting causes both here and in the State of Israel-with his money, his time, his ideas and his heart,” Melissa said.
Harvey was also “in love” with both the Zionist spirit and the Land of Israel. The family would visit relatives there twice yearly, and because he was an archeology buff, the country provided much enjoyment, Marsha said.
Aside from his devotion to his family and work in law, Harvey was also passionate about the family’s cottage in Huntsville.
Adam called it his father’s “other life’s work.”
“He was never happier than when he saw his whole family enjoying, living and laughing together at the cottage,” Adam said.
It was there that he could indulge in his love of working the land, planting trees and relaxing with friends, neighbours and family in a serene environment suited to his temperament.
Adam added that his father also passed along his love of Mel Brooks’ movies and slapstick humour to his family.
Recalling a story about his father, Adam said that while he and his family were sitting shiva for their late grandmother some years ago, a woman whom Harvey didn’t know came to pay her respects. But seeing that the woman was distraught, he sidled over to her, put his arm on her shoulder and stayed with her, in silence, until she felt more composed.
“He just always seemed to know the right thing to do in any given circumstance,” Adam said.
In the end, Melissa said, what struck her most about her father was what she already knew: that his gentle nature and humility had an impact on everyone he touched.
“He never complained and always thought of others. He had a way to make everyone feel special, important and feel like they belonged,” she said.