When Fort Lee resident Rina Bialer died on Aug. 5 of MSA, a rare neurodegenerative disorder, she left a rich legacy of service to the Jewish community.
"She was very special, for a very long time," said JCC on the Palisades Executive Director Avi Lewinson, who delivered a eulogy at the funeral. Bialer had worked for the JCC for 38 years. She was 69 years old.
"From her beginning in the Early Childhood Department, when we were in Englewood, to her final position as membership director here in Tenafly, it was abundantly evident that next to her family, our JCC was the devoted labor and love of her life," said Lewinson.
The funeral, held Monday at the JCC, drew some 350 people, according to Lewinson, who said that not only did he consider Bialer a close friend but that she was "a dedicated servant of the Jewish community."
According to longtime JCC leader and community activist Sandra Gold who also spoke at the funeral the JCC staff member, who was among her closest friends, "made her life count." Gold said that when her family moved to Englewood nearly 40 years ago, it was Bialer, then director of the Children’s Department at the JCC, who welcomed them. "We had made our first friend."
"Her warm smile, exuberant hug, and caring ways helped make the JCC a home away from home for so many children when they were there," said Gold. "If a child wanted to call home, buy a snack, needed a ride home, get a homework question answered … Rina was the person to find."
According to both Gold and Lewinson, Bialer originally from Tel Aviv and later a resident of New York, Bergenfield, and Englewood Cliffs was someone that people felt comfortable speaking to.
"She was a unique person, genuinely interested in people and wanting to help," said Lewinson. He called her "a talented social worker by training" in whom people confided. "She tirelessly advocated for those who needed special services or scholarships; she was pro-active in creating an agency for the entire Jewish community, regardless of financial ability to pay; and she was an outspoken leader for high standards, relationship-building, and the human touch."
"My mother was a wonderful, special person, always giving," said Bialer’s daughter Ronit Lawlor of Demarest. "On the holidays, we never knew who would be there at the table. She extended her hand to everyone."
According to Lawlor, her mother was also "a very cultured woman, always on the run. She loved music, art, shows, and always took us to museums when we were young. Also, she loved Israel and cared deeply about the country."
Bialer also left what Gold described as "important legacies" in the community. Some 16 years ago, following the death of her husband, she established the Moshe Bialer Memorial Fund for Catastrophic Illness, which has since aided numerous individuals and families during periods of devastating illness. In addition, she was instrumental in creating and nurturing Holocaust-related projects and programs for local Israelis.
"She was a constant advocate for Israeli families," said Lewinson. "Rina always strove to welcome Israelis to our center, hoping to provide them with a place to meet, to socialize, and to connect with the larger Jewish community. It’s no surprise that Tenafly has, today, one of the largest Israeli populations in the country."
Bialer is survived by her daughter Ronit Lawlor, son-in-law Steven, and their children Arielle and Rachel; her daughter Yael Ruskin of Morganville and her children Jeffrey, Jeremy, and Michael; and her sister Leah Ceder of Tel Aviv.