Community honors Harry Graber at retirement celebration

August 14, 2018

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After 30 years of dedicated service to Tidewater’s Jewish community, Harry Graber retired on June 30. Attended by hundreds of well-wishers, a celebration in his honor took place on June 14 at the Sandler Family Campus. Graber served from 1988 to 2003 as executive vice president of Jewish Family Service, followed by 15 years as executive vice president of United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

The evening, which celebrated Graber’s vast and varied accomplishments, opened with a cocktail reception. Local and national Jewish leaders, volunteers, Tidewater community leaders and associates, Graber friends and family members, and those who have worked with him over the years filled the Cardo at the Sandler Family Campus. All wanted to affectionately shake Graber’s hand, hug him, or pat him on the back for a job well done.

A program followed the reception, with Ron Kramer, a past UJFT president, serving as the evening’s emcee. Kramer praised Graber’s character and leadership: “Working with Harry gave me a chance to really get to know and appreciate him for the funny, sometimes quirky, but ultimately brilliant leader that he was and is.”

Art Sandler, another past UJFT president and community leader, spoke warmly about his relationship with Graber and how many things he undertook during his time at JFS and UJFT—many of them quietly, so that few even knew of his involvement. Sandler thanked Graber, and his wife Joyce, for their devotion to the community.

Graber’s sons, Alex and Zach, spoke of their father being a prominent figure in the Jewish community and their experiences growing up. They recalled these particular words of wisdom their father had imparted to them: “‘If you see something that’s fundamentally wrong,’ he would tell us, ‘You cannot un-see it, and you must do something to make it right.’”

In a speech that began in Yiddish, but gradually turned to English, Graber remarked on the great satisfaction he had received in his years of work in the Jewish community, and of being grateful for his partnerships with lay leaders. He thanked his family for their constant support, and assured all of his confidence in leaving the community in the capable hands of his successor, Betty Ann Levin.

John Strelitz, UJFT president, presented Graber with numerous awards, including an autographed ODU Lady Monarchs basketball and a metal and fused glass Hanukkiah by artist Gary Rosenthal featuring the Jerusalem skyline and inscribed to mark the occasion. World ORT took the unprecedented action of awarding Graber membership in its 1880 Society, the organization’s elite donor’s group. On behalf of Virginia Beach Mayor Louis R. Jones, Strelitz read a proclamation declaring June 14 “Harry Graber Day.”

In an especially meaningful tribute, the Jewish Communal Professional Award, which is presented bi-annually to an exemplary Jewish professional, was named in honor of Graber—a past recipient of the award, himself. Strelitz also announced the establishment of the Harry & Joyce Graber Family Fund of the Tidewater Jewish Foundation. Created by donations in honor of Graber’s service to the community, the Grabers will be able to make charitable distributions from the fund. Annie Sandler presents Harry Graber with a piece of art from JDC. Harry Graber addresses the crowd. John Strelitz presents Harry Graber with the Harry Graber Jewish Communal Professional Award.

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