(JTA) — Hugh Malcolm Berger would spend months preparing exquisite desserts for the annual open house at the Atlanta Group Home, a residence for people with developmental disabilities where his daughter, Nanci, has lived since 1984.
Berger drew on his Alabama roots for his powdered coconut sugar cookies, but his specialty was Hughie’s Chewies, a variation of chocolate chip cookies studded with pecans and raisins.
Berger and his wife, Rachiel, helped found the small, family-like residence and have been a continuous presence there ever since.
“Growing up, having a sister who had challenges, it does keep the perspective crystal clear of what is important in life,” Berger’s son Harold said. “That comes from your parents. They embraced it. They taught us to accept things and keep pushing forward.”
Berger died Sept. 6 in Atlanta from complications of COVID-19. He was 88.
In a phone call with his son the day before he died, Berger was in good spirits, but an infection he developed took its toll. He died one week before his 61st wedding anniversary.
Berger’s culinary talent extended beyond baked goods to the Sephardic dishes of his wife’s family. He was also an exceptional dancer; at many a bar mitzvah, he would have to be dragged off the dance floor. A masterful storyteller, he carried a little black notebook filled with jokes in his back pocket
“He could tell a joke with the best of them,” Harold Berger said. “He was a good person, humble, always in a good mood and fun to be around.”
Born in Mobile, Alabama, Berger enlisted in the U.S. Army in the 1950s. After joining his family’s pawn shop, he built a career in the retail jewelry business. He and Rachiel and their three children moved to Atlanta in 1972, when their daughter required specialized medical treatment. The Bergers were devoted to providing a supportive home for their daughter and the other residents at the Atlanta home.
“He wanted people to be happy, safe, and respected,” Harold said.
In addition to his wife and children, Berger is survived by siblings and three grandchildren.