Bernie (Bernard Jonas) with his children, Marc Jonas, Suezanne Winkelman and Rabbi Shmaya Jonas
Bernie with his children, Marc Jonas, Suezanne Winkelman and Rabbi Shmaya Jonas

Remember your class trip to wherever it may have been? One memento was probably a class picture that, when unrolled, covered the table top.

Imagine, if you will, such a large photo but of only one family. This is the case of most simchahs celebrated by the family of Bernard Jonas of West Bloomfield, who turned 95 on July 28.

Attending a luncheon at The Shul were his children and their spouses as well as many of his 35 grandchildren and 75 great-grandchildren.

Bernie has strong Midwestern roots, having been born in Aurora, Ill., in 1923. He was the oldest of 12 children, seven of whom are still living. The importance of family shows itself in the fact that four of the siblings, in this area, still meet each Tuesday for lunch.

Though Bernie had a career — he worked for several companies all dealing with the fastener business and in 1970 was inducted into the Ohio Fastener Hall of Fame — the driving forces in his life are family and tzedakah.

Bernie (Bernard Jonas) with his children, Marc Jonas, Suezanne Winkelman and Rabbi Shmaya Jonas
Bernie with his children, Marc Jonas, Suezanne Winkelman and Rabbi Shmaya Jonas

The idea of giving to others was instilled in Bernie at a young age by the example set by his father. When asked for contributions, Bernie’s dad made sure that the boys were present before funds were transferred. The kids were encouraged to get explanations for the use of the money from the solicitor and were then told to get checks prepared. It was important that they realized what the money was going toward.

Helping others is demonstrated by Bernie in his work at Yad Ezra, among other volunteer projects. He has even arranged to have one of his own children donate unsold calendars from his stock to the deserving families served by the food pantry. Yad Ezra recognized Bernie’s work by naming him Volunteer of the Year in 2007.

Bernie has been an active member in other facets of the Jewish community in Detroit for many years. Early on, he became a member of the board of the B’nai B’rith Organization and remained so for more than 50 years. In addition to Yad Ezra, he has worked with the American Jewish Committee and Hebrew Benevolent Society. He was also involved with the Northwest Detroit Baseball League, and he remains a stalwart presence at Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield.

Because of his active involvement, he was honored by Jewish Senior Life as a recipient of an Eight Over Eighty Award in 2016.

The honors are nice, he admits, but what brings a real twinkle to Bernie’s eyes? His family. He is delighted to recount the latest simchah, the work experiences, the educational progress of each and every one of the young ones.

When asked if he keeps a roster of who’s who, he acknowledged that he has a list, prepared by his daughter, of all the offspring, noting each one’s birthday. At the beginning of each month, he sits down and writes checks for that month’s “honorees.” The return of this “investment” is in the form of regular phone calls to check up on him or to just visit briefly. At least five local grandchildren call to visit regularly before Shabbat.

Of course, I had to ask this nonagenarian his secret to such a long life. One component, Bernie admits, is thanks to two of his children who arranged for a personal trainer to come to his home two or three times a week to supervise workouts.

Family and giving are the mainstays of Bernie Jonas’ being. L’chayim, Bernie, to a life well lived and to many more productive years.

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