By Gabe Friedman
Photo – Goldie Michelson in 2008 by the theater that bears her name. (Clark University)
After the death last week of 116-year-old Susannah Mushatt-Jones, a 113-year-old Jewish lady named Goldie Michelson became the oldest living person in the United States.
Goldie (neé Corash), as most who know her call her, is in great shape for her age, but she’s a little hard of hearing these days. So, Renee Minsky, 84, spoke with JTA by phone about her mother’s extraordinary life — which has involved Jewish volunteer work, theater and a lot of chocolate. Here are some of the aspects that stand out.
- She’s lived in Worcester, Massachusetts, for over a century
Born to Reform Jewish parents in Russia in 1902, Goldie immigrated to the U.S. at age 2. Apart from her time as an infant in Russia and a stint as an undergrad at Pembroke College — a women’s college in Providence, Rhode Island, that merged into Brown University in 1971 — Michelson has lived her entire life in her adopted hometown.
- There’s a theater named after her at Clark University
Goldie has a lifelong passion for theater, which she taught to Hebrew school students at Worcester’s Temple Emanuel (now Temple Emanuel Sinai), Jewish senior citizens and others for decades. She still has a small theater in the basement of her home, complete with a stage, footlights and a dressing room, which doubles as a laundry room. When Goldie left generous funding for future renovations to the local theater at Clark University in her will, the school naturally renamed it the Michelson Theater.
- She wrote a master’s thesis about Worcester’s Jews
Michelson completed a master’s degree at Clark University in sociology, and her thesis focused on a community that few probably know better than she does: the Jews of Worcester. In “A Citizenship Survey of Worcester Jewry,” Goldie found that many of the city’s Jewish immigrants were intimidated by the task of learning English and didn’t pursue American citizenship.
- She volunteered for Jewish groups like Hadassah and helped resettle Soviet Jewish refugees
After the borders of the Soviet Union opened up for Jews in 1989, a new wave of Jewish immigrants came to Worcester. Michelson was among the volunteers to help them settle in and accustom themselves to American society. Minsky fondly recalled attending the first bar mitzvah of a Soviet immigrant — an experience she said was “incredible.”
On top of that, Michelson worked with many volunteer organizations, including Jewish ones like Hadassah and the National Council of Jewish Women.
“You think of a women’s organization, and I was directing it,” she told the Worcester Telegram in 2012.
- She says the key to her longevity was walking
Goldie doesn’t leave home much anymore, but for much of her life, she walked 4 or 5 miles every morning.
“One of the great joys of life was when I sold my car,” she told Clark University’s magazine in 2012.
However, her real secret could be being a Jewish lady named Goldie — up until last year, the presumed oldest Jew in the world was 114-year-old Goldie Steinberg of New York.
- Her favorite foods are chocolate and lobster
Michelson is very healthy for her age, so she can still enjoy her culinary favorites. In addition to chocolate and lobster, Minsky said her mother also loves hot dogs and corn on the cob.
- She once wrote Obama a thank you note
When Goldie became a supercentenarian — joining those who have lived to the age of 110 — she received a photograph and letter from President Barack Obama. Even though she knew he would probably never read it, Goldie was adamant about writing the commander in chief a thank you note, Minsky remembers.
“I just feel I’d like to do it,” Goldie said after hitting the milestone three years ago. “I want to tell him I voted for him.”