“It’s not every job that you have a chance to not just put a widget on a shelf or make a balance sheet balance, we had the opportunity to help the lives of people who couldn’t help themselves. So that was very special for me, and I was very fortunate.”
That’s how Sol Fleising sums up his 33 years at Reena. From Controller to Director of Finance to CFO, Fleising’s contributions helped build Reena into the sector leader it is today. Originally from Montreal, after a career in the oil and gas industry in Alberta, Saul joined Reena as controller in 1985 eventually becoming CFO in 2004.
One of the things that impressed Sol about Reena was Sandy Keshen and her willingness to continually reach out and help others working in the field. “Reena was like a surrogate agency looking after other agencies,” says Fleising, “and I took a lot of pride in helping other agencies that were floundering and in one particular case, they were barely making their payments to Revenue Canada for deductions at source, and I think when we left, they had six figures in the bank, so we were very proud of that accomplishment.” Fleising estimates from 1985 there were probably half a dozen agencies that Reena helped out.
But it wasn’t all just dollars and cents for Fleising. He became hands on, sometimes acting as an unofficial Judaic advisor Reena. “When Reena was smaller, there were times when we didn’t have a Judaic advisor, so there were times when I was asked to lead mock seders and put up mezuzahs,” says Fleising. According to Fleising, he learned a few interesting tips from Rabbi Kelman, “You don’t just put up a mezuzah, you make a simcha…a party…out of it. So, I would go with a bottle of grape juice, not wine, to make a ‘shehecheyanu’, a blessing, and we would go with a platter of food and a boom box so we could have music and literally dance with the residents when we would put up a mezuzah. It was really a very happy occasion to make people feel how special they were.”
Fleising recalls after renovations on a group home where the residents had to move out, he got a call from the brother of one of the residents after they moved back in asking if he had ‘insurance’ on the house. Sol responded that yes, of course they did. But the brother told him, ‘No you don’t, you forgot to put back the mezuzah!’ Sol says he immediately proceeded to put it back.
Another tradition Fleising got involved with was the annual Passover Seder. The mock seder would take place before the actual Holiday and gave Reena supported individuals, their families and the community the opportunity to share the Passover experience.
“One time we hired a musician who played the trumpet and the keyboard. He was very religious and when he saw men and women dancing together, he refused to play. So, I told him this was a very special event and that these people never get a chance to dance and socialize with their peers. We convinced him and he stayed and played beautifully. There were huge circles of staff with residents and the families; everyone was dancing in circles it was just beautiful.”
The organization would not be where it is if it were not for the effort and industriousness of Sandy Keshen, according to Fleising. “A short lady, but a giant figure,” says Fleising, “Sandy was a role model and example to so many of us…working so hard she inspired others.”
As Sol so aptly sums it up, “It wasn’t just putting widgets on a shelf…there are some special people here.”