As members of the Temple B’nai Abraham men’s club sang “Happy Birthday,” Jack Oelbaum sat in his wheelchair and smiled.
“I’m feeling very good,” he said. “But I never thought I’d get to be this old.”
Oelbaum turned 101 years old on Feb. 7, and observed the occasion by attending the Sunday morning minyan at the Livingston synagogue.
“I’ve been a member for 75 years,” he told NJ Jewish News. “I go back to the temple’s days in Newark. I’ve made a lot of good friends and gotten a lot of good wishes. It has meant a lot of shoulders I could hang onto when I wasn’t well. But I’m OK now.”
The independent synagogue was organized in 1853 by immigrants from Poland and moved to the suburbs from its Clinton Avenue location in Newark in 1973. For much of his adult life, Oelbaum has been a regular.
“He is an extraordinary symbol of our continuity,” said Rabbi Clifford Kulwin. “The congregation is already rich in multigenerational family presence. I cannot count the number of families here with three and even four generations present. Jack embodies all of that. There are so many people of all ages who relate to him, because he is here all the time and everybody knows him.”
Oelbaum has been a widower since 1999, when his wife, Freda, died. Their son, Michael, is a concert pianist who lives in New York City.
Joel Bornstein makes Oelbaum’s attendance possible, driving him to and from the Daughters of Israel nursing home in West Orange for Saturday services.
En route, they have much to discuss.
“Jack reads The New York Times every day,” said Bornstein. “When I pick him up we talk about what is going on in the world. He is a unique individual. He’s got a great sense of humor. He epitomizes somebody who is not allowing himself to age by folding up and going into a corner. He really is someone I look up to. We’ve developed a friendship, and I am proud to be part of his life.”
Alan Moscowitz of West Orange has been Oelbaum’s friend since 1960. “He has been a strong member of the men’s club. He’s still pretty sharp, and he has a better memory than I do.”
Moscowitz paused for a moment, and pointed at his old friend seated across the table in the temple’s conservatory.
“Jack was quite the ladies’ man,” he said.
“I still am,” the “birthday boy” responded.