2018-12-05 / Voice at the Shore

At 99, Survivor Bertha Borowick’s passion for life is inspirational

Voice shore editor

BERTHA BOROWICK BERTHA BOROWICK Bertha Borowick, who just celebrated her 99th birthday at the Rosin Senior Center, is one of those unforgettable people whose very existence makes the world a better place for those whose lives she touches.

On my first visit to Rosin Center four years ago, when Bertha was 95, this bright-eyed woman—who stands just over five feet tall—enthusiastically dragged a chair across the room so that I could sit next to her, despite the fact that I was nearly half her age, able-bodied, and could have (should have!) gotten the chair for myself.

As I dumb-foundedly sat down, a Rosin Center staff person whispered in my ear: “You know, she’s a Holocaust survivor!” Bertha then proceeded to tell me how much she loved coming to the Rosin Center, where she got to see her friends, and how much she loved living near the beach.

“She is like the mayor of the Rosin Center!” said Gail Scherzer, the program director for the center, which is operated by Beron Jewish Older Adult Services. “She hugs everyone, everyone knows her, she reaches out to everyone with a smile from ear to ear. She is loved. She has time for everyone. When she’s gone, people ask where she is.”

On October 26, Bertha celebrated her birthday with her senior friends at the Rosin Center. After a morning of live music and dancing, everyone shared a birthday cake that Bertha had generously provided. Although Bertha didn’t feel up to dancing that day, her smile was still magical and inspirational.

At 99, “Bertha describes herself as a happy person who feels life is the most precious thing in the world,” said Scherzer, who interviewed Bertha for this story. “Bertha likes to read, exercise, go to the beach, and come to the Rosin Center.” She also speaks six languages.

Born in Sokolka, Poland, in 1917, Bertha was the youngest daughter in a family of seven children. A good student, Bertha went to a commercial business school in Poland.

Then came the Shoah. At age 20, Bertha was sent to a concentration camp, ending up in Auschwitz. Although she miraculously survived, the rest of her family perished in the Holocaust.

Bertha met her husband, Moishe, z’l, during the Shoah. “They were married in a displaced person camp in Munich,” said Scherzer. The couple ultimately came to America, where they raised their daughter, Nancy, and worked hard to achieve the American dream. The couple operated several grocery stores and invested in real estate.

Although Bertha’s family does not live close by, she feels lucky to spend her days with her Rosin Center family. For her 99th birthday, the center honored her with a leaf on their Tree of Life.

Bertha is also a frequent attendee at Jewish Family Service’s Holocaust Survivor Luncheons, said Jane Stark, director of Stockton University’s Azeez Museum, who has long been active in the Holocaust survivor community.

“Everything about her speaks out to you as being a person with a joyful heart. She’s an inspiration. She embraces life, she’s not ready to let go.” said Stark. “I look forward to being with her because she inspires me with the warmth and glow she gives off. She inspires everyone.”

Her devotion to fashion, even now, is also inspiring and indicative of her relish for life. “She’s so style-conscious. When she leaves the house, she has to have jewelry on,” said Stark, who gushed recalling Bertha at a luncheon in recent memory wearing a gold lame belt and sandals and a leopard print top, and on a previous birthday wearing a blue satin outfit with matching shoes.

“To think that she’s 99 years old is such a miracle. Mentally she is so sharp, and emotionally she is so warm,” said Stark.

Bertha credits her longevity and quality of life to exercise. Even now, she faithfully participates in Rosin Center’s fitness classes three times a week whenever she can. “She exercises all the time,” noted Scherzer. “She thinks she has done so well with the quality of her life because of exercise.”

Happy birthday, Bertha! 

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