Anita Berman nee Woolfson was born in Durban, South Africa in 1919 and lived most of her life in small villages in the Orange Free State. In World War II she joined the Women's Auxilliary Air Force and served until the end of the war. In 1941 she married Eric Berman, a lawyer - they were both in uniform.
After the war and the birth of their son and daughter, Anita worked for twenty years in Eric's legal practice. In 1970 the Bermans made aliyah and in 1976 they settled in Herzliya. Three years later, Anita began a new 'career' - as volunteer in the recently established ESRA where she did outstanding and creative work for over twenty five years.
Her first role was as 'mailman' in Herzliya of ESRA’s four-page Newsletter. She changed her 'route' in 1982 when she moved to Raanana, delivering up to 50 copies of the then 40 page ESRA MAGAZINE. And she became very involved. "If you want to know anything – ask Anita!" became the byword. Anita's talent for communication with people and instinctive understanding of their needs made her the perfect local volunteer coordinator for ESRA – skillfully matching volunteers with suitable jobs; running a club for English-speaking pensioners. In Adele Rubin’s words: “Anita was a remarkable and modest person with a real talent - she recognized a need and helped answer it.”
"She is the best-dressed woman in the whole of Raanana" - Mignon Lubinski always remembers this remark her husband made about Anita.
Then, in 1990 with the influx of Russian immigrants, Anita helped ESRA find its way to assisting them in Raanana. She hardly knew Hebrew but she spoke Yiddish as well as English of course. When the Russian families arrived from Ladispoli to the new project of direct absorption in apartments in Raanana, spearheaded by Mayor Zeev Bielski and Jonathan Davis (then at the Jewish Agency), Anita, whilst walking in the street in Raanana, began to talk to the Babushkas (grannies minding their grandchildren whilst the parents studied Hebrew at ulpan). Anita learnt that there was no ulpan for the elderly, nor a meeting place for them. She found a new immigrant from Riga who also spoke Yiddish and some Hebrew, and she became Anita’s interpreter.
So Anita, together with the Raanana Social Services, started to organize activities for the Russian pensioners in ESRA’s clubhouse in Beit Fisher. Her enthusiasm for this project and her enjoyment in working with the appreciative Russians resulted in a mailing list of 500 immigrants. She organized monthly meetings with Russian-speaking lecturers and tours with Russian-speaking guides, including a trip to Hatzor, a kibbutz established by Russian immigrants – which one of the visitors likened to a Rest Home! Anita's appeal for Yiddish-speaking people to "adopt" Russian families brought responses from Yiddish-speaking South Africans. However, recalled Anita with a smile, she was once asked to provide an English tutor for a Russian lady, who emphasized that she didn’t want a South African as she didn't like their accent!
Another amusing recollection was the interest some of the single male immigrants expressed in widows who owned apartments.
ESRA's original second-hand clothing store – in aid of Russian immigrants – was opened in the basement of Hamashbir, Raanana. This was organized by the tireless Anita, in response to a request by the Municipality's Unit of Absorption. They did a roaring trade, with a Russian immigrant standing at the door in his self-chosen role of 'supervisor', while Anita shlepped up and down two flights of stairs a dozen times a day in the absence of a lift!
One day while working in the shop, Anita was approached by a lady from London visiting Israel, who expressed a wish to donate money to Russian pensioners with no deduction for expenses. She was a relative of the late Geoffrey Stalbow who, thanks to Anita together with the lady's husband established a Fund for elderly Russian immigrants within the ESRA Immigrant Fund. Help included 18,000 shekels worth of supermarket coupons which were distributed by ESRA to the pensioners at Rosh Hashanah, organized by Anita.
One Friday, ESRA received a call for help from the Raanana Absorption Center, for a woman and her two children without food or money. With Anita as contact, a basket of food was delivered within an hour – just another instance of her caring and efficient response to the needy.
Anita was an exceptional volunteer in ESRA, and received two awards – one from ESRA for her outstanding voluntarism, and one from the Raanana Municipality for volunteer work with Russians in the city.
In 1992 Anita moved to Herzliya to the newly established retirement home for South Africans, Beth Protea. She was the first person to put her name down for the home and she was there at its opening.
For several years she volunteered at the local ESRA office in Herzliya, where her knowledge and capability were invaluable. At Beth Protea she became ESRA’s coordinator of English tutors for Russian or Hebrew speakers, as willing and reliable as ever. She also arranged for a group at Beth Protea, that she formed especially for this activity, once a week to make sandwiches for needy schoolchildren, chosen by the municipality.
Another of her projects was to arrange in Beth Protea a table at dinner every Friday night, each week inviting a different group of residents to join her. She used this to make sure that every new arrival at Beth Protea was invited and introduced. Recalled one of these immigrants from the UK at her shiva,that arriving at an almost-all South African Beth Protea, where everyone knew someone from the "old country", he felt left out so, for him and his wife, this invitation within days of their arrival was a very welcoming introduction, a life-saver. And more than ten years later he remembers it with pleasure.
In the many condolence letters that her son Brian and daughter Hilla received, people wrote: “a very special noble, regal, a real lady, well groomed, always with a smile and sense of humor, always polite, never forgetting to say please and thank you, interesting and enjoyable conversations with this highly intelligent lady; beautiful knitting, supportive, a vital woman, interested in so many things; a wise and generous lady, a great hunger for fun and life, and a lovely warm smile and demeanor. It was a privilege to have known her. She was loved by everyone and was easy to get along with, and that is why she had many ’best’" friends”.
Anita leaves behind two children, five grandchildren and three great grandsons.
She is sorely missed by her family, friends and ESRA.
Our sincerest thanks for information received from Anita’s son and daughter and ESRA’s Adele Rubin.