2016-05-25 / Local News

Friends celebrate extraordinary woman on her 100th


FAVORITE YEAR: 1937 (the year she married)

FAVORITE SONG: “Don’t Fence Me In”


FAVORITE POETS: Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg

FAVORITE MOVIE: “The Grapes of Wrath”

To spend an afternoon with Ethel J. David is to begin to understand what it means to live life fully.

David, who turned 100 on May 23, weaves stories across decades: She has farm tales about early life in Kentucky in the 1920s and of course the war years stories, when she drove ambulances as an American Red Cross “Grey Lady” at the army base in Texarkana, Texas. Of course her South Jersey friends know her most for the pivotal roles she played in the later decades of the 20th Century as a leader of South Jersey civic and philanthropic organizations, including the JGH Auxiliary she founded in 1971.

And then there’s the accounts that simply give one the chills, including the times her family hosted iconic Zionist leaders overnight in their Cincinnati home when they were in town to make the case for American support of a Jewish state. She willingly gave up her bed for David Ben Gurion and Golda Meir.

“In those days, Zionists didn’t have any money,” noted David, a Lions Gate resident who previously lived in Cherry Hill. “They couldn’t stay in fancy hotels. We used to pass a hat around to collect nickels, dimes and quarters to send them off to the next town.”

She was in story-telling mode on May 19 when some 35 longtime friends—many of whom were fellow volunteers with the JGH Auxiliary—gathered at Amici’s restaurant in Cherry Hill to celebrate David’s 100th birthday.

Usually so talkative, David was at times choked up with emotion as friends greeted her, toasted her life and read from a proclamation from Cherry Hill Mayor Chuck Cahn declaring the occasion “Ethel J. David Day.”

“I must have done something right in my life to have so many people here now,” she said.

As Toby Dubner, a longtime friend from the Auxiliary put it, “she’s accomplished things that none of us will do in a lifetime and fortunately she’s here to enjoy it.”

The event started out to be much smaller but so many people wanted to celebrate with David, added Dubner, who is a co-president of Friends of Jewish Senior Housing, a new volunteer organization that picks up where the Auxiliary left off supporting the programs and services for residents of Dubin, Gesher and Saltzman houses, as well as the healthcare residents of Lions Gate. “They really, really do love her.”

Naturally David has some thoughts on reaching 100. She attributes her longevity to good genes, an ever-curious mind and a positive attitude. A published author of both memoir and poetry, which she continues to write daily, she said she wasn’t always successful in her endeavors but that never deterred her.

“I did so many things in my life,” she observed, noting five trips to Israel and travels to other places she wanted to visit since childhood, including the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, Egyptian pyramids and Machu Picchu in Peru. “I sometimes wonder how the heck I had the nerve to do it, but I wasn’t afraid. If it didn’t work, it wasn’t failure—it was feedback.”

One of her earliest memories is a telling one. She remembers attending a funeral of a family friend and viewing the corpse of the deceased woman.

“A man said to my mother, ‘Thelma always wanted an orchid, I hope she’s satisfied,’” she said. “My mother grabbed me by the arm and said, ‘please God, give me the roses while I can still smell them.’”

“I’m getting all my roses now,” she added. “I’m just overwhelmed, when I see what’s going on here. I’m just overwhelmed.” 

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