Holocaust survivor among centenarian celebrants

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Washington, DC, September 6, 2016 | comments

South Florida Jewish Journal

Holocaust survivor among centenarian celebrants

Marvin Glassman

Within the past few weeks, three local Jewish residents celebrated their 100th and 101st birthdays with special celebrations.

Centenarians Steven Berkowicz, a Holocaust survivor living in Pembroke Pines, Alice Borisoff of Pembroke Park and Mollie Gross of Pembroke Pines each marked their milestones with parties for families and friends.

Berkowicz celebrated his 100th birthday at a party on Aug. 30 at the office of Goodman Jewish Family Services in Plantation before 40 people, blowing out a large labeled "100" birthday candle from his birthday cake.

He shared many jokes and good wishes from the many Goodman Jewish Family Service staff that were at the party, such as:

"I thought maybe God would give me 75 years. He gave me a little extra."

"God gave me extra time because I suffered so long," said Berkowicz.

In a more serious vein, Berkowicz, who wears no glasses and only on occasion uses a cane to walk, shared both photos from his younger years and several stories regarding surviving the Holocaust at the party.

Born in Poland, Berkowicz and his family were forced to evict their home in 1942 by Nazis who wanted to use the house for military quarters. Berkowicz was enlisted into slave labor.

He later escaped and was hidden from the Nazis by a Polish family in Krzesk until the town was liberated in June of 1944.

Following the war, Berkowicz returned to his home, only to learn that his entire family perished in the concentration camps.

Berkowicz remained in Poland until emigrating into the United Stares in 1966, residing in Buffalo, NY. He married Sima in 1964 for 46 years until her death in 2010.

He has been living in Pembroke Pines since 1989 and, because Berkowicz has no children, he no longer has any living relatives.

"My friends at Jewish Family Service are now my family," said Berkowicz at the party.

"There are countless Holocaust survivors and seniors living alone and isolated among us," said Jacob Schreiber, chief executive officer of Goodman Jewish Family Service.

"So, when we had the opportunity to celebrate with Steven turning 100, we jumped on the chance because who better to celebrate with him than his JFS family who keep him happy and healthy all year long."

Berkowicz is a client of JFS from the Holocaust Survivors Assistance Program. According to JFS officials, the program provides Berkowicz and other Holocaust survivors counseling, food gift cards and payments for housing among other services provided by the agency.

"Because of these services and funding from the German government through the Claims Conference, Holocaust survivors manage to remain independent in their own homes and live with dignity," said Eric Troy, director of the Holocaust Survivors Assistance Program at Goodman JFS.

Gross celebrated her 101st birthday on Aug. 27 at a party that took place at Village Reform Congregation at Century Village in Pembroke Pines where she resides. Among those attending her birthday party was U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston).

"Happy 101st birthday, Mollie Gross. I'm thrilled to celebrate with you," wrote Wasserman Schultz on her "Facebook" page following the birthday party.

"Debbie and I have been friends for many years. It was such a thrill to have her come to my party," said Gross.

Last year, Gross was invited on her 100th birthday to a Miami Marlins baseball game, courtesy of the team.

"My Aunt Mollie is a very unique individual who packs an incredible amount of activities into her days and evenings," said Cydelle Pines Greene of Miami, whose late father was a brother to Gross.

According to Greene, her Aunt Mollie is more active at 101 than many seniors younger than her. The five foot one inch Gross goes to an exercise class at the community gymnasium three times weekly, followed by 30 minutes on weights. She then spends afternoons learning social media on the computer and was honored with an outstanding student award by her computer teacher in 2015.

Alice Borisoff celebrated her 101st birthday Aug. 26 at a party given for her by The Peninsula Assisted Living and Memory Center Residence in Pembroke Park where she is a resident.

"Alice is quite alert and can still walk at her age. She is a joy to be with and is an inspiration to all seniors. I am so happy to have known her for so many years. She had a wonderful time at the party," said Michelle Hertz, resident programming coordinator of the agency.

For more information on the programs for seniors and Holocaust survivors at Goodman Jewish Family Services, 100 S. Pine Island Road #230, in Plantation, call 954-370-2140 or go to www.jfsbroward.org

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