'What could be a greater gift than giving?'

Canadian Jewish man who anonymously donated 1,700 bikes to kids dies at 93

Even neighbors who knew Avrum Morrow for 50 years never realized he was the ‘Bike Man’ behind Montreal charity; he also funded Hebrew U scholarships

Canadian philanthropist Avrum Morrow in 2013. (YouTube screenshot)
Canadian philanthropist Avrum Morrow in 2013. (YouTube screenshot)

For 33 years, residents of the Canadian city of Montreal didn’t know who was behind an initiative to give away dozens of bicycles every year to underprivileged kids and “young heroes.”

That mystery was finally solved this week, when Canadian media reported that the silent philanthropist was Avrum “Avi” Morrow, who died Saturday at the age of 93.

Through his organization Sun Youth, Morrow donated a total of more than 1,700 bikes, complete with helmets and locks, over more than three decades, according to CBC News. The annual budget was some 20,000 Canadian dollars ($15,000), with the total cost so far estimated at 600,000 Canadian dollars ($452,000).

Even neighbors who had known Morrow for more than half a century never knew he was behind the initiative.

“He was such a busy man,” said Jo-Anne Kravitz, a next-door neighbor for more than 50 years. “He was always on the go. He wasn’t around the house much. He loved to be out with people. He was a very giving man.”

Morrow, a Jewish Montreal native, was buried Monday at the local Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery.

“My Uncle Avi taught us never to walk by somebody with their hand out, that there are always those who have less, and we have a responsibility to make this world a better place,” he was eulogized by his great-niece Laura Fish.

Morrow had also donated to a fund providing scholarships for disadvantaged students to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, according to Carolyn Steinman, who runs the fund.

After graduating from Baron Byng high school in 1940, Morrow co-founded sanitation supplies company Avmor, which has been operating since 1948 and is still one of Canada’s main cleaning solution firms.

He was also an amateur artist and art collector, having commissioned more than 400 works and created a private gallery open for use by community groups.

“When I was 60 years old, I decided I wanted to celebrate my birthday in a different manner,” he told the Montreal Gazette in an anonymous interview in 2015. “But I didn’t need anything. I had everything I could possibly want.

“I remembered that when I was a kid, I couldn’t get a bicycle because my parents didn’t have the means. But I kept begging them, and they finally gave in and bought me a red Raleigh bicycle. I loved that bike so much that I cleaned the spokes with a toothpick.”

That was when he decided to give away bikes to underprivileged children, with the idea that recipients who later in life have the means to do so also donate to those in need.

The family has vowed to keep the bike donation program going in Morrow’s honor.

“He was larger than life and touched many with his kindness and generous spirit,” wrote Nancy Gurberg in an online message on the Paperman & Sons funeral home website. “He was a teacher, a mentor and a community friend.”

Morrow is survived by his wife of 71 years, Dora Berkson — whom he originally met at school when he was 13 and she was 11 — as well as his daughter Juli and nephew Mattie Chinks who now runs Avmor.

“To borrow from the teachings of Maimonides: ‘From the unknown to the unknown.’ I’m very embarrassed by being public about giving,” he told the Montreal Gazette three years ago. “I don’t feel deserving of praise for such a simple gesture.

“But I do keep telling other people that on their birthdays, those who can afford to should celebrate by giving. What could be a greater gift than giving?”

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