Adele Samuelson, my paternal grandmother’s cousin who lives in a “granny” annex next to her daughter and son-in-law’s beautiful house in Michmoret, smiles when I ask her for the secret to her longevity. On October 1, seven weeks before our visit, she turned 108.
“What’s the secret?” she repeats, sitting on the sun-drenched terracotta porch of the house, sipping coffee after enjoying the chopped herring my sister, Debbie, brought her. She is dressed elegantly, wearing pearl earrings below her hearing aids. “Having a good family,” she says. “My children are good children.”
Adele is constantly embraced by her loving relatives and has a full-time caregiver. Grandchildren pop in regularly; a granddaughter and her family live in a separate home next to a well-tended garden and swimming pool.
The oldest of seven siblings (she’s the only one still alive), Adele has two daughters, Gail and Ilana, who are both trained speech therapists. Her daughters made aliyah from South Africa with their families in the 1970s. Ilana and Cecil Gorfil moved to Michmoret; Gail and Jeffrey Drutman to Netivot. Together they had a dozen children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren (they prefer not to count), which makes Adele a great-great-grandmother.
“Do you think we have good genes in the family?” I ask her.
“Yes, we have very good genes, and some very bad ones too,” she laughs. “Nothing is due to anything. It just happens. I think one has to smile – otherwise, life’s not worth living at all.”
Advice for her 100th birthday
On her 100th birthday, she imparted this advice at a celebratory gathering in Michmoret: “The first and foremost thing is determination. Without determination, I can promise you, you’ll get nowhere. I’ve had many disappointments in my life, but thank God, many, many blessings. The second thing is to have a happy family life, and that is what I wish for all of you now. The next thing is very important. My sister Phoebe’s motto was ‘Do it now!’ If you use this motto, suddenly your life becomes more organized. You don’t put things off. Finally, life is not always serious. Have fun!”
In 1943, Adele sailed to Palestine from Durban via Egypt on a Polish ship named SS Kosciuszko, which carried Italian prisoners of war. Then she took the train to Haifa. She spent a wonderful year on Kibbutz Kfar Blum before reluctantly returning to South Africa.
In 1945, she married Skea (Yehezkel Samuelson), whom she met on a hike at a Zionist youth. camp. The wedding took place at the Rosettenville shul in Johannesburg. They both loved hiking, camping, mountain climbing and the outdoors – even their honeymoon was spent in a tent in the Drakensberg mountains.
Adele and Skea, who worked with his partner and cousin Harry Berman as a tiler in Jo’burg, made aliyah in 1979. Skea died in 1992. Adele worked for 18 years (until age 84) as a secretary to three presidents of Tel Aviv University and English secretary in the legal department. “It was a very interesting job, working for the presidents,” she recalls. “They treated me very well, and I think I treated them very well, too!”
Asked about her wry sense of humor, passed down from generation to generation, she says: “I’m glad I’m responsible for something good.” Being particularly skilled with her hands (her father was a tailor), Adele sewed clothes for her family, and loves cooking and music. She says she still sings often. Asked for an example, she croons a popular 1949 song:
Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself while you’re still in the pink
The years go by as quickly as a wink.
Her daughters appreciate her upbeat nature, strong values and love of people. “One of my mother’s outstanding qualities that she has always shown is her sincere interest in people and connecting with them,” Ilana wrote in a 100th birthday book compiled for Adele. “Your amazing wisdom and insight never fail to amaze us.”
“You always look at the good side. Don’t be negative, no complaining!” Gail wrote. “Our house was always full of all and sundry, coming to you for your caring sage advice, based on your uncanny understanding of people.”
“Do you believe in God?” I ask Adele toward the end of our visit. “Yes, I do,” she replies. “Otherwise, I suppose I wouldn’t be here.”