In a recent Q&A appearing on the B'nai B'rith Europe website, Senior Vice President Erika Van Gelder shares some interesting insight into her life, her time with B'nai B'rith and what she sees ahead.
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:
Q: Can you tell us something about your early life?
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."
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