When BMH and Beth Joseph congregations merged in 1996, there was a concerted effort to maintain the history and identities of both venerable East Side traditional shuls as they morphed into the singular BMH-BJ.
Perhaps the most fitting sign of that continuity was the smiling face they put at the front desk that of Hazel Gensberg.
After all, Hazel had been a decades-long member of both BMH and Beth Joseph during different times in her adult life. Shed even been the president of the BMH Womens League in the 1960s.
The fact that she got the gig as the new BMH-BJ receptionist when she was 80 was no big deal to Hazel. She had worked nearly all her life, was still sharp as a tack and had no intentions of retiring anytime soon.
And Hazels age was no big deal to her new employer. In fact, it was most likely an asset. Her longevity as a synagogue volunteer and her professional experience in customer service, along with her impeccable grooming and pleasant demeanor, made her the perfect person for the job.
That was 16 years ago, and now Hazel is about to turn 97. She still comes to work four days a week, and she still reigns at the BMH-BJ front desk, where she greets visitors, answers the phone, opens the mail, and assists in a variety of office tasks, including preparing the daily deposit.
At 96, Hazel Gensberg represents the best of all the eras through which she has lived. She uses a computer, drives herself to work, and wears up-to-date clothing. Yet she shuns certain modern conveniences in favor of old-school ways: When I open the mail, I record every dollar that comes in by hand, and then make up a deposit. I cant stand a calculator. I add everything in my head its a lot faster, she says.
Like everyone, Hazels story is a journey, one that despite her cheerful countenance and optimistic outlook, has taken her down some difficult roads.