Celebrating until 120

More than 1,000 people in Israel are over 100 years old.

present88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Moses died at 120, which is why when Jews wish each other happy birthday, they add the tag line "till 120." But the day is not long in coming when what used to be a fantasy age will become normal. Indeed, Israel's two oldest members of the 100 plus club are 119 - and both live in Haifa. Altogether, there are 1,015 people in Israel who are members of the club by virtue of the fact that they were born a century ago or more. Approximately a third of the 1,015 became members this year, meaning that they were born in 1906. Of the 1,015, twenty two are past the age of 110. But the most interesting statistic that testifies to the hardiness of these very senior citizens is the fact that 132 of them have settled in Israel over the last 16 years, meaning that they were at least 84 when they embarked on such a dramatic change in their lives. Among those who arrived in this time span was German-born Bertha Porush, who came on aliya in 1999. Prior to that date, Porush came to Israel twice a year from Australia, proving that you're never too old to be a jet setter. Born in Berlin on October 17, 1903, Porush, who is dual national, received letters of congratulation on her 100th birthday from the queen of England, the prime minister of Australia and the president of Israel - somehow fitting since she has lived in all three countries. Porush will not be among the 120 members of the club who will be hosted at a reception at Beit Hanassi on Thursday. One of the reasons is vanity. At home in Jerusalem, she uses a walking frame to get about, but wouldn't be seen with it in the street. On her weekly visits to the beauty parlor to get her hair done, she walks with the aid of a cane and the assistance of her live-in caregiver. A lady in every sense of the word, Porush exudes quiet dignity. Her wonderful mane of white hair is immaculately in place. Her clothes are classic and elegant, and the expression on her face indicates a quiet interest and curiosity about everything that goes on around her. A strong believer in a healthy mind and a healthy body, Porush continues to exercise daily, and is more than willing to share the secrets of her exercise routine with anyone who wants to listen. At the request of her grandchildren, she started to write her memoirs in 1994, but keeps on revising the text. "There is always something to add," she says. She met her husband, the late Rabbi Israel Porush, when he came from Jerusalem where he was born, to study for his rabbinical degree at the Hildesheimer Seminar in Berlin. Concurrently he studied mathematics at the University of Marburg and graduated with honors. They were married in October 1934. Her uncle came from Berlin to officiate at the wedding ceremony. Her mother also came and her future father-in-law came from Jerusalem. Her husband who had a position at Finchley Synagogue received an offer from a congregation in Melbourne, Australia, but declined it. However, when everyone was forced to wear gas masks and the air raid sirens were sounded with increasing frequency, the family decided to accept an offer from the Great Synagogue in Sydney. The couple arrived with their two small daughters Judith and Naomi in 1940. Rabbi Porush remained as the spiritual head of the Great Synagogue till 1972, and for two years after that, continued his work as head of the rabbinical court. Her elder daughter, Judith Mond, died from cancer at age 34, leaving a husband, a son and a daughter. The husband remarried, but remains in touch; the daughter Michelle is happily married with children, but the son Danny, at 45, is still a bachelor, much to the despair of his grandmother. "I'm trying to find a bride for him," she says. "When you're a rebbetzin, you always want to make shidduchim. Even now, I still try to make a shidduch if I can." Although she no longer has the patience to read books, she is an avid reader of newspapers and periodicals, especially the financial pages. She likes to keep up with current events and can hold her own at the dinner table of her daughter and son-in-law Naomi and Isi Leibler, with whom she lives. She has a close relationship with her grandchildren and great grandchildren, most of who live here as well as with a large number of Australian expatriates resident in Israel. Her longevity is probably genetic. Her mother, who lived with her for 27 years in her home in Australia, died at 93. Members of their family regarded Bertha and Israel Porush as eternal lovebirds. When he died in 1991 after 56 years of marriage, the connection was not severed. She has a photograph of him in her bedroom. "Every evening after I say my prayers, I look at him and say good night."