By GERRY POSNER
Recently I was at a synagogue in Toronto to hear the former rabbi of the Tree of Life Temple in Pittsburgh recount the events of the tragedy at his former shul when, as the Torah was carried around the synagogue, who should appear in the aisle across from me, but Evelyn and Larry Hecht.
Now, surprises like that I welcome. We both did a double take. I then reflected on the time when Evelyn and I sat on the rabbi search committee at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue and we were charged with the task of going to New Jersey to scout out a potential rabbi for the synagogue. That job was but one of only a few that Evelyn and her husband Larry undertook (and in fact still undertake) as active members of the Winnipeg Jewish community. The fact is that Hecht is a name synonymous with strong participation in communal life.
And why not? The name Hecht means spears or arms. It is like a sharp weapon that pierces the enemy - just as Larry and Evelyn have pierced through the wall of passivity and changed so many organizations in a positive way.
The team of Larry Hecht and the former Evelyn Malian was married in Winnipeg in 1961. They are now approaching their diamond anniversary. Even with three grown children and numerous grandchildren, they were never too busy to contribute to the community and continue to this day to those organizations that are so meaningful to them.
Just take a look at the groups that have benefited from the involvement of Evelyn Hecht over these past 60 years. It began with the CJA Young Leadership, Hadassah and Ramah Hebrew School. She was just warming up. Evelyn co-chaired the Town Hall Lecture Series at the YMHA and, in 1978, she was awarded the Max Nathanson Young Leadership Award (which makes me wonder: When do they give out the Old Leadership Award?).
Evelyn also became active in the NCJW and their Opportunity Store. Perhaps one of her most significant contributions to the Winnipeg Jewish community was her tenure as the first female president of the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, where she pursued an egalitarian agenda still so very visible at that synagogue today.
She even served as Chair of the Manitoba Community Services Council. As well, for those whose memories are long, you might recall Evelyn as the host of the “Jewish Connection” cable TV show for many years. All of these volunteer roles ultimately led to Evelyn assuming the job as the Director of Community Relations for the Winnipeg Jewish Community Council, as it then was called. Thus, for a multitude of years, Winnipeg, and in particular the Jewish community of Winnipeg, have been beneficiaries of the Evelyn Hecht persona.
Husband Larry was right by her side along the way. Larry developed J. Hecht & Son into an international large fur manufacturing business whose products were sold throughout North America and Europe. He also was a huge contributor as a volunteer for many organizations in Winnipeg. He is one of a handful of third generation members of the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue and of the YMHA/ Rady JCC. Larry followed the model set by his father and grandfather when he became active in the Masonic Order.
Larry’s first stint as chair of an organization came when he served as Chair of the Talmud Torah Men’s Dinner in 1969. For years Larry was a willing canvasser for the Combined Jewish Appeal and even now serves as the Chair of the Redemption Committee, a difficult job for sure. And of course, Larry was a long term board member of the YMHA and was its president from 1993/94. He also served on the Va’ad Ha’ir. Moreover, Larry was Chair of the Safety Committee for the Downtown Biz for many years as well.
The Hechts might attribute their strong commitment to the general and Jewish community to the principles of Tzedakah, Chesed, and Derech Eretz first exemplified for them by their parents. I personally lament that there are not more Hecht types around today who exemplify these noble principles.
With all of that said, I wonder if Evelyn might well agree that the toughest assignment she had in her volunteer years was the hiring and firing of rabbis for the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. What she does say was that the most important work in her professional career was the facilitating of the immigration into Winnipeg of so many Argentinians, beginning in 1998, as well as many newcomers from Israel. Even though Evelyn retired in 2006, her connection to these newcomers remains strong and the positive impact of these immigrants in our community continues to this day. It was for this contribution that caused Evelyn to be recipient of the Larry Hurtig Professional Leadership Award in 2019.
When it is all said and done, the Winnipeg Jewish community can be grateful for the time and effort that Larry and Evelyn have given to it. It has been a “ Hecht” of a run for them and happily, they keep running.