Joe Berman z”l and his wife Helen z”l were among those who helped found Reena in 1973. Giving both his time and financial assistance, Joe guided and supported Reena from the start and helped Reena make such a positive impact on the lives of so many people with developmental disabilities.
Joe served as chair of the Reena board in 1974 and later became a life director. Always generous with his personal financial contributions Joe believed that it was necessary to give individuals with diverse abilities the tools and opportunity to help themselves.
Among their many contributions, Joe and Helen gifted Reena its first two homes that helped bring many individuals with diverse abilities out of institutions. In addition, Joe also took out a personal loan of $100,000 to help the then fledgling organization stay afloat.
In another incredible act of generosity, the Bermans also gifted Reena a 52-acre tract of land in Orangeville, near their family farm, which was used to build Camp Reena. Camp Reena operated from this location from 1975-1992 offering a summer retreat with recreational programs and kosher accommodations for young adults and adults with developmental disabilities. Many of the campers came directly from institutions and had not had this type of opportunity before.
The Bermans also helped raise money to start Reena through various fundraising efforts including a Monte Carlo night hosted at their home in the 1970’s.
Tova Kelman remembers the Bermans having a very close relationship with her father Rabbi Joseph Kelmanz”tl and her family describing Helen Berman as an incredible hostess and cook. Not particularly observant in the early days, Kelman recalls that Helen, who wrote a cookbook, catered her entire sons bar mitzvah, however Rabbi Kelman, who attended the celebration, could not eat any of her delicious, but un-kosher food! The Bermans become more religious later (and kosher), eventually hosting the ‘Sheva Brachas’ pre-wedding event for Rabbi Jay Kelman at their home.
Rabbi Jay Kelman remembers having Passover Seder in his parents home with the Bermans where he says Joe was extremely bright and insightful. “I often quote Joe Berman and one of the insights he gave at our Pesach seder,” says Kelman, “ How really all of us are all four children, at different stages of our life, and different points where we all represent each of the four children. How it doesn’t have to be four different people, it can be four different pieces of one individual.”
“Joe was the thinker, Helen was the heart,” according to Bryan Keshen, Reena CEO, who recalls Helens outstanding cooking as well as her love for people. Keshen’s family also had a close connection to the Bermans, visiting them at their beautiful home many times and sharing Passover Seders with them as well.
In 2002, Joe & Helen Berman received Reena’s first lifetime achievement award for their consistent and loyal support of people with developmental disabilities.