Kol Hadash, Northern California Community for Humanistic Judaism

ABOUT US: Roy Calder, founder of Kol Hadash

Roy Calder photo

Remembering Roy Calder: April 10, 1921 - March 3, 2009

Kol Hadash founder and long-time member, Roy Calder, passed away on Tuesday, March 3. He had been dealing with health issues for some time.

Many of us were fortunate enough to have seen Roy at the February Shabbat, about ten days before his death. Roy made a special effort that evening to attend visiting SHJ Rabbi Miriam Jerrris' Shabbat service and the presentation of our annual member service award, named in honor of Roy for his many contributions to our community. The award was presented this year to past presidents and couple extraordinaire, Marcia and Joe Grossman, who felt honored to have Roy in attendance.

We owe Roy a huge debt of gratitude for his involvement in the founding of Kol Hadash and for directly and indirectly touching each of our lives. We will miss him very much.


Roy Calder was born in 1921 in Dresden, Germany, and escaped Nazi Germany at age 15 when he was sent to boarding school in Switzerland, before making his way to England. There he met his wife, Alice, who had left her family in Hamburg when she got a job as a housemaid in England. They were the last remnants of their respective German Jewish families; both lost all their relatives in the Holocaust. They were married in London in 1942.

To their great pride and astonishment, they were able to establish an extensive family of their own in San Rafael. "Never in our wildest dreams could we foresee that one day we would witness the birth of the fourth generation of a brand new family. (It) seems just too good to be true."

Roy Calder was born Hans Cohn. After arriving in England he joined a Jewish refugee unit of the British army stationed in Calder, Scotland. Because he expected to fight the Germans, he changed his name, believing that a German citizen prisoner of war with a Jewish name would be at high risk. He took the name of the town where he was stationed, and called himself Roy instead of Hans. As a soldier, he was assigned to the Royal West African Frontier Force stationed in Nigeria, trining African troops for duty in India and Burma.

In 1946, he left the army, and for seven years worked catch-as-catch-can until emigrating to the United States. The couple - by now with two children - eventually settled in San Francisco and in 1956 moved to Marin. They lived in San Rafael for half a century; Mr. Calder died at Smith Ranch Homes on March 3, 2009.

Roy spent 15 years in the trust department of the Bank of California and 12 years as a professional fundraiser for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, retiring in 1986. For another three years he worked part-time on factory-outlet developments in Northern California before retiring in the early 1990s.

He served for two years on the civil grand jury in Marin and was a consultant for the Executive Service Corps in San Francisco. He and Alice were among the original members of Temple Rodef Shalom since 1956, and he served as president of the Temple for two years. He was also on the speakers panel of the Holocaust Center of Northern California.

In 1987 he founded the Northern California Chapter of the Society for Humanistic Judaism (now Kol Hadash), and was its president for the first 4 years. He also served as newsletter editor for 7 years.

We Remember Him...

Bert Steinberg:
More than 7 years ago, on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of Alice & Roy Calder, I was privileged to lead a Shabbat, the subject for which was Leadership. At that time I also expressed my personal feelings and thankfulness to Roy for having created and led the Northern California Community for Humanistic Judaism which became Kol Hadash, a New Voice. Those remarks bear repetition at this time as his extraordinary career and life comes to an end.

In the late 1980's, Roy, having seen an ad in the magazine of the American Humanist Association, had joined the Society for Humanistic Judaism as an individual national member. In October 1987, SHJ held a conference in Detroit at which representatives of 9 or 10 countries organized the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews—and Roy, on his own, went to Detroit to that meeting. Rabbi Wine must have had an amazing effect on Roy because Sherwin suggested that Roy, when he returns to the Bay Area, organize an SHJ community—and Roy did just that. And we have grown into Kol Hadash in the 14-15 years since then.

That Roy undertook that task, is something I will be ever grateful for. I want to publicly express to Roy my deepest gratitude for his having done that. If he had not, I would have never found the Humanistic Judaism movement in 1989 when we moved to California. I had never heard of it before, but finding it has truly changed my life completely, adding to it an extra meaning and purpose that never existed before. Finding SHJ represented a change in our lives—not only that we are now more Jewish than we have ever been—I always knew I was a Jew, but I never had been a member of any Jewish organization, religious or secular. Now being Jewish had a special meaning. The day I found SHJ, I can now look back and say, I found religion. That day started something which grew as my understanding grew. No longer was I just a Jew. No longer was I unaffiliated. No longer was I detached from the rest of the Jewish community. That day I started to become a Jew with a definition, a Jew with a purpose, a Jew with understanding, a Jew with a religion, I was a secular humanistic Jew. And none of that would have been possible if it weren't for Roy Calder having brought SHJ here. So, all my thanks to Roy.

Marcia Grossman:
Roy Calder—A man bigger than life. At least that’s how he always seemed to me. He was six months older than my mother, but always seemed much younger; more vital, more alive. And, he’s the entire reason Joe and I are so strongly connected to the Jewish Community here in the Bay area, because without Kol Hadash we would have been totally unaffiliated.

When we moved to El Cerrito nearly 11 years ago, we thought we might try to find a synagogue to join. But we'd been through that exercise on the East Coast, and it hadn't worked for us there. Our beliefs just didn't jibe with even the Reform congregations we explored. We felt we would be hypocrites – to be saying things we didn't believe. How different would it be here?

Then we learned about Kol Hadash (at that time, the Northern California Chapter of the Society for Humanistic Judaism) from a neighbor (and soon to become very dear friend). We met Roy, along with the Spaniers and many other long-time members. And we were hooked!

Once I became president, we got to know Roy on a more personal level. We made numerous jaunts to San Rafael to talk with him about Kol Hadash, about his hopes and expectations for the community. We also enjoyed social times with Roy and Alice, his wife of 62 years. In fact, at the August 2002 Kol Hadash Shabbat, we celebrated my 60th birthday and their 60th anniversary together.

In March, 2005, Roy and I presented an introduction to Humanistic Judaism program at Rodef Shalom, the synagogue in San Rafael that he and Alice helped start back in 1956, and to which he continued to belong, even after he founded Kol Hadash.

And just two weeks ago, on February 20, Joe and I had the honor of receiving the Kol Hadash Roy Calder Service award, with Roy looking on from the audience. It was a privilege and a joy to have known Roy. I will miss his advice, his humor, and his admonitions.

Joe Grossman:
We first met Roy in 1998 at our initial visit to Kol Hadash. Over the next few years, our involvement with Kol Hadash included many years on the KH BOD. Roy was a valuable asset. He met with us several times to give his advice and guidance during a period of major change in our group.

Roy was a forward thinker and had a keen understanding of people. He was an active supporter in changing our congregation’s emphasis, even though it differed from his initial philosophy as its founder. He was as always willing to assess the situation and change his views when the best interests of our congregation were involved.

After leading our group for four years, he assumed the duties as the editor of our newsletter for seven years and headed up a fund raising effort to hire our first Rabbi. Roy was behind the scenes of many of the columns we wrote for our newsletter, always there with constructive comments to better make our point or to rephrase items so they would be politically correct. His advice and the respect he had from our membership was always a positive element during our leadership of KH.

During the 10+ years we knew Roy , we were lucky to have several opportunities to get together with him as friends, and were especially rewarded by getting to know Alice. The love and unique bonding between them was wonderful. Their love for, and the closeness of their family only added to our love of Roy .

His life story is fascinating. A few years ago he put together a rather complete autobiography and gave us a copy. Looking through it this week reemphasized what a unique individual Roy was and the great value of his efforts. His life was one that was full, productive and loving. We will miss and remember you Roy.

Etty Dolin:
A treasured memory about Roy Calder from August 2001: I had only met Roy a few months earlier . Now, my mother, who had been ill with Alzheimers for 10 years just passed away. I didn't know what to do about a memorial service as there'd barely be a handful of people to attend. Here's comes this tall man, Roy Calder, whom I barely knew. He suggested that we could hold a service at his home. He then put together a Humanistic service from Sherwin Wine's writings and invited Cantor David Margules from Temple Rodef Sholom to sing and play the guitar.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, about a dozen family and close friends gathered in the flower-filled backyard of Roy and Alice's home and we had the the most loving and memorable memorial service anyone could ever ask for. This is who Roy was.




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