Beverley Stern is gone, and I will miss her.
She died earlier this month in Toronto after a battle with cancer. My wife, Etti, and I kept in touch with her by phone in the last year-and-a-half of her life. Regrettably, a face-to-face meeting was impossible due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Almost until the day Beverley passed, she remained poised, resolute, engaged and stoic. She was that kind of a woman. She accentuated the positive and looked forward to better days.
“I’ve had a wonderful life,” she often told us. Her three adult children, Beth, Susan and Gary, would agree. Beverley mined life’s opportunities with gusto and grace. She seized the day and took nothing for granted. She was a doer.
I knew her for 42 years, which is a long time by any yardstick. I met her in 1979, when she volunteered as a proofreader at the Canadian Jewish News, a weekly newspaper where I worked as a reporter and columnist. I had a feeling she would impress Ralph Hyman, the editor, sufficiently enough to be hired, and that is exactly what happened after a month into her trial period.
Beverley brought important assets to her new job. She was intelligent and well-read. She was curious. She was friendly. She was closely connected to the Jewish community. She was passionately interested in Israel. And she could write a story that flowed and immersed a reader.
After leaving the Canadian Jewish News, she worked at Baycrest Health Sciences and then for the family business.
She was not a conventional Zionist who toed the Israeli government party line. She loved Israel, but charted her own path, believing that the Palestinians were entitled to independence within the parameters of their own state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Until the 1993 Oslo peace process, the two-state solution was a concept beyond the pale in official Israeli government circles.
Beverley believed that Israel’s resistance to Palestinian statehood was strategically short-sighted and morally unjust. She was not an ideologue in any sense of that word. She was a pragmatist, a practical person who argued that Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians was counter-productive and could well have disastrous consequences.
She was an early supporter of Peace Now, the Israel-based organization, and dedicated countless hours to its chapter in Toronto.
Beverley expanded her growing knowledge of Israel by reading newspapers and magazines with the utmost attention. She would underline sentences with a yellow felt marker if she thought they contributed to her understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And accompanied by her husband, Morton, who predeceased her, she would travel to Israel to learn about this complex dispute on a first-hand basis.
Whenever possible, Beverley would pick the brains of experts. I vividly recall her meeting with Simcha Flapan, the author of The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities and the editor of New Outlook, a monthly magazine that promoted Arab-Jewish coexistence.
It was not only politics that drew her to Israel. She loved its varied landscapes, its eclectic food, its inviting beaches and, most of all, its fascinating history. In her final years, she went to Israel several times to be a volunteer in various settings.
After Morton’s death in 2009, Etti and I would regularly meet Beverley at the Jerusalem restaurant, one of my favorites in the city, to enjoy the classics of Middle Eastern cuisine. We usually ordered dishes ranging from a plate of creamy hummus drizzled with olive oil to aromatic chicken kebobs on skewers. She would end a meal with Turkish coffee or tea and baklava.
In essence, Beverley was a gourmet. A dinner invitation to her home was always a treat. She would invariably serve guests a green salad slathered in a fairly piquant dressing, the finest raisin challah bread I have ever tasted, varieties of chicken and salmon, an enticing and delicious selection of cakes and pastry, and strong coffee. These are meals I remember vividly and cherish.
On Rosh Hashanah, she would invite family and friends for an excellent lunch, to which Etti and I were invited. Beverley was an exemplary hostess, smiling broadly and making everyone feel comfortable and at ease.
After Morton’s death, she moved into a spacious apartment that she furnished with exquisite taste. In her last year, she lived in an elegant retirement home and at her daughters’ homes.
Beverley reacted to her stage-four cancer diagnosis with equanimity. To my knowledge, she did not succumb to despair. Nor did she engage in self-pity. She was a trooper par excellence.
She lived life to the fullest, knowing she was loved and appreciated by every person who was fortunate enough to have known her.
Beverley died on May 17, the 38th anniversary of Israel’s misbegotten peace agreement with Lebanon. Had she lived longer, it may well have been a topic of conversation. Even during her sickness, she liked to discuss old and new developments in the Middle East. Her mind was always working.
Goodbye, Beverley, rest in peace. The legacy you left behind will always burn brightly.