Van Gelder was born in a displaced person's camp in Linz, Austria, shortly after World War II. After her mother passed away following childbirth, her father moved to Israel, leaving her in a children's home in Linz.
Her experiences in the children's home helped shape a lifetime of service to others, particularly in the Jewish community. Learn more about her story:
Van Gelder: My very early life was spent being taken from Linz by the Red Cross and brought to Budapest to friends of my future parents, and later being smuggled in a suitcase across the border into Romania. I must have been about one year old when I arrived in Arad, a city in Romania near the Hungarian border, in the region of Transylvania.
I remember a very happy childhood. My (new) parents, my mother's sister and her husband adopted me. They had no other children and they were the most fantastic parents one could wish for. I grew up with lots of love, warmth, understanding, a safe environment, with parents that stimulated me in my endeavors and, above all, believed in me.
Q: When and why did you join B'nai B'rith?
Van Gelder: "Because I never forgot my origins I started helping the Jewish Old Age Home in my home town, Arad, Romania. The Amsterdam BB lodge asked me to become a member in1994 and to continue my project through the lodge. Of course, I agreed."
Q: What have been your main areas of interest in B'nai B'rith so far?
Van Gelder: "The more involved I got, the more I realised that humanitarian aid projects were needed in all the ex-communist countries and that good communication and coordination was essential for any modicum of success. With this in mind, I proposed the creation of a permanent committee for Central and Eastern Europe (at the BB Convention in 1997).
"I chaired this committee from the beginning until 2004. That year I was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, non-Hodgkin's. I had chemotherapy for one year and it took me another two years to function normally. I am extremely lucky, so for me "la vita e bella". After this intermezzo, I became more active again. I never stopped the fund raising for the projects in Eastern Europe, but I could not do more."