Hyman Reichstein, whose steadfast work for the community has touched on some of the foundations of Jewish life – synagogue, education and preserving the past – is the 2017 recipient of the Shem Tov Community Volunteer Award.
The Shem Tov Award, notes the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, “recognizes an outstanding volunteer for a lifetime of service dedicated to the betterment and enrichment of Jewish life in Ottawa.”
“My aim is to help the community,” said Reichstein. “It is an honour to receive the award, but my work has never been about rewards. It’s been about giving back to the community.”
Seven letters of support accompanied Reichstein’s nomination, each one describing his deep commitment to the community.
“He gives shem tov a shem tov [good name],” wrote Rabbi Reuven Bulka, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Machzikei Hadas. “A jewel of a person, with all the qualities that define what it is to be a mensch, Hymie embodies all the values we yearn to have, and to transmit to our children … He IS a shem tov. All that is missing is the award.”
A past president of Machzikei Hadas, and one of the shul’s most dedicated volunteers, Reichstein also helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for Ottawa Torah Institute (OTI), founded the Jewish Genealogical Society of Ottawa, of which he remains president, photographed every Jewish grave stone in Ottawa, created a data base of all graves, and an online map of the Jewish Memorial Gardens.
In their joint nomination letter on behalf of Reichstein, Rabbis Dovid Mandel and Yaakov Moshe Harris of OTI described him as “an indefatigable community servant of the highest order”; that the organizations he works for are “incredibly successful … largely because of Hymie’s work ethic and contagious enthusiasm.”
They concluded their letter by stating, “The value, energy and vision that Hymie works so hard to contribute to our community are immeasurable and humbly hidden.”
The son of Jewish immigrants from Russia, Reichstein was born and raised in Montreal where he attended Jewish day school and high school. After graduating from McGill University with an engineering degree, he moved to Ottawa in 1962 to work at the National Research Council.
He and Marlene have been married for 52 years and have three children and six grandchildren, all living in Ottawa.
Although Reichstein’s ‘full-time’ volunteer career began when he retired in 1995, he was already a long-time volunteer in the community. In 1985, he was chosen as Volunteer of the Year by the Kidney Foundation for the work he did computerizing their general operating systems. He was chair of the United Jewish Appeal Public Service Division and worked extensively on behalf of Hillel Academy. In 2001, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Ottawa received the Project of the Year Award from the International Association of Jewish Geological Associations for its film about a Jewish cemetery in Ukraine, a project spearheaded by Reichstein.
Reichstein’s heart lies in Jewish education, something he feels is essential to Jewish continuity and the reason why he is so involved in fundraising for OTI.
“I have always wanted to be involved in Jewish education,” he said. “It is the most important thing to keep a community alive. We need more people to be involved.”
His efforts have been highly successful. In his nomination letter, Rabbi Idan Scher of Congregation Machzikei Hadas noted, “OTI would not exist if not for him and his drive to see it succeed.”
Supporter Bram Bregman, described Reichstein as someone who “volunteers relentlessly … to benefit the community and never himself.”
In her nomination letter, Orly Aaron, an OTI parent, talked about Reichstein’s dedication and commitment to Jewish education, and called him a role model.
“If there is any award to a person that is long overdue, this is it,” added Rabbi Bulka in his letter.
The Shem Tov Community Volunteer Award will be presented to Reichstein at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa annual general meeting, Wednesday, June 14, 7 pm, at the Soloway JCC.