2017-12-06 / Local News

Renaissance woman reflects on life at the edge of 100


AGE: 99

FAMILY: Husband Sydney (z”l); sons Daniel (z”I) (Dale) and David (Geraldine); two grandsons and four great-grandsons; sister Mollie




Fiercely independent, 99-year-old Minnie Kaufman fills her days soaking up knowledge in senior classes at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill. She makes abstract paintings that have earned acclaim in juried senior art shows, writes poetry, and swims laps.

In her down time, Kaufman catches up with friends via email, often loses track of time while online, and gets behind in the readings for the JCC’s popular Gotta Read! class (which she enjoys nonetheless).

It is a slower pace of life after raising two accomplished boys and working in the business world (at a time when working mothers were not the norm) up until the age of 78, but Kaufman prides herself on maintaining her technical skills and her mind razor sharp.

“I think my self-image is improving because I stay up-to-date, “ she said. “Even today, when I should be able to rest on my laurels, I continue to push the envelope.”

Regarding her upcoming 100th birthday and the party her family has planned for April 8 at her beloved JCC, Kaufman purposely pushes it out of her mind.

“I’m very superstitious, especially when it comes to planning ahead,” she admitted.

Reflecting back also does not come so easily. Born in Poland the third of four siblings, Kaufman’s memories of life in the old country are not so pleasant, tainted by anti-Semitic occurrences and her parents’ constant worries. Still, it was hard to leave for America at age seven in 1925 when a rich aunt from New York arranged first-class passage to a better life.

“My parents didn’t look for any faults here. They thought it was heaven and we were free. But we left a lot of people behind,” she recalled. “My mother’s family, which I felt close to, were all still there. Of course, at that time we didn’t know they would all be killed (in the Holocaust).”

Settled in Coney Island, she enjoyed life by the ocean, especially swimming with her siblings while her dad, a health and fitness nut before his time, did exercises on the beach.

As one of the few immigrants in her Brooklyn public school, Kaufman quickly adapted to American life. She remembers learning English so flawlessly that she was picked to recite poetry to her class and others. After graduating high school at 17, she took work as a bookkeeper in the garment industry while attending business classes at night. She married Sidney Kaufman, a podiatrist, whom she met at her synagogue, in 1940.

Daniel, the son who became a lawyer, argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court at age 29. David, a doctor who specializes in infectious disease, settled into a practice in Vineland. Those family ties eventually brought her to South Jersey.

Over a long life, joyous occasions and accomplishments were laced with sadness, including Daniel’s death in 1998 and Sidney’s passing in 2002. Upon moving to the Towers of Windsor Park in 2006, Kaufman found a home away from home at the JCC.

“She is really an inspiration with her creativity, her swimming, her poetry and all that she is and does and has accomplished,” said Marcy Lahav, the JCC’s adult, cultural, and Judaic director.

Kaufman said she takes life one day at a time and although she rarely looks back, she is fulfilled by her legacy.

“When you look in the mirror, you have to like that person you see.” 

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