Alex Eisen was a fixture in Toronto’s Jewish Community and an important member of the Reena family. A Polish-born Holocaust survivor, who once worked for Oscar Schindler, Eisen came to Canada in the late 1940’s. He got his start in business as a furrier, later moving on to real estate and construction of strip malls and office buildings.
Alex was a successful businessman who dedicated much of his life to raising funds for charities both locally and abroad, many of which he was instrumental in forming. Countless hours were spent each week at his ‘office’, a corner table at the Bagel Plus on Sheppard Avenue where his advice was sought by many. He held special esteem for organizations that catered to the developmentally disabled, as his son Marvin was born with special needs.
Eisen was instrumental in the late 1960’s helping Rabbi Joseph Kelman to establish the Ezra and Kadimah schools Foundation in support of children with special needs, and in the establishment of Reena in 1973. Alex served on numerous Reena campaigns and fundraisers never refusing a call to action that involved Reena, from fundraising to political contacts, he was the go-to person. He gave sage advice and opened doors to access, “If they say no, say ‘that’s OK I’ll see you next time,” he said.
In 1998, Alex Eisen helped spearhead the building of Reena’s first elder home. Eisen came to Sandy Keshen, Reena’s Executive Director, for her help in establishing a home specifically for seniors with developmental disabilities after a late-night phone call from an elderly woman whose middle aged, developmentally disabled son still lived at home with her. Sandy told Alex that his visit was ‘beshert’, destined, because Reena was in the planning stages of the building for such individuals. At that time approximately 25% of Reena residents were over the age of 50. Keshen’s goal was to raise $1.5 million to cover the cost of acquiring the land and construction of a residence for 15 to 18 people. In true Alec Eisen fashion, he accepted the challenge and agreed to spearhead the project, especially when he learned that by creating the home for seniors it would free up space in existing Reena group homes for others in the community still waiting for support. As Project Chari, Alex Eisen led a formidable team to raise the money and the Al and Faye Mintz Elder Home became a reality.
Alex was also involved in, the Alex Eisen Society, which he created to raise funds for respite and enrichment programs. He always believed in solid financial planning for a strong Reena and was the first to give a planned gift to Reena in the form of an insurance policy.
Alex’s legacy as long-time community activist, educator and fundraiser will continue to be felt for generations.