‘Tremendous’ work ethic of 97-year-old keeps Meals on Wheels running smoothly

‘Tremendous’ work ethic of 97-year-old keeps Meals on Wheels running smoothly

Rudy Loewenstein, volunteer coordinator for Greenwood House’s Meals on Wheels, with Barbara Goodman of Lawrenceville. Photos by Jennifer Altmann
Rudy Loewenstein, volunteer coordinator for Greenwood House’s Meals on Wheels, with Barbara Goodman of Lawrenceville. Photos by Jennifer Altmann

Rudy Loewenstein, 97, has an important job for which he doesn’t get paid. Every month he coordinates the volunteers who deliver meals four days a week in the Labbok Kosher Meals on Wheels program, which serves elderly Jews in Trenton, Lawrence, and Ewing Township. The program is run by Greenwood House, a community nursing home in Ewing.

“There is no one else like Rudy,” said Barbara Goodman of Lawrenceville, one of the volunteers who receives frequent calls from Loewenstein to confirm the days and routes she will drive. A few of the meal recipients are Holocaust survivors, and many are frail. “Sometimes you are the only contact these people have all day long, so it’s more than just bringing them food.”

He began delivering meals after his retirement 22 years ago and later assumed scheduling duties. “He keeps the calendar straight, he knows everybody’s preferred route, and he trains the new volunteers,” said Goodman.

It can be a challenge to find eight volunteers each week who can make the food deliveries, but Loewenstein, who lives in Ewing Township, is nothing if not persistent. “When the word ‘no’ was taught in school, it was Yom Kippur, and I wasn’t there,” he joked.

Last year, Gov. Phil Murphy honored Loewenstein with the Jefferson Award for Public Service, which is presented annually to state residents for “remarkable volunteer achievements.”

Loewenstein was born and raised in Germany. In 1937, as the Nazis grew more menacing, the 15 year old boarded a ship by himself that was bound for New York City. (His mother joined him a year later, and his brother went to Palestine.)

Rudy Loewenstein with the phone he uses to coordinate volunteers for Meals on Wheels.

After finishing high school in upper Manhattan — he was in the same class at George Washington High School as Henry Kissinger — he attended the National Farm School in Doylestown, Pa., founded in 1896, its mission to educate Jews to work in agriculture. After graduating, Loewenstein got a job on a farm in Madison, which he said had 2,000 chickens and 20 cows. The draft board gave him a two-year exemption — it deemed his farming work to be critical — but after the Battle of the Bulge at the tail-end of World War II, he was drafted and served two years stateside as a tank commander.

After the war he spotted a young woman named Clara at a social gathering at a synagogue in Trenton and she agreed to let him walk her home. “It was Pesach, so I couldn’t take her out for a cup of coffee,” he said. Within a few months they were engaged, and married in November 1949.

The young couple moved to a modest home in Ewing Township, where Loewenstein still lives on his own. He worked a job delivering eggs door to door. After starting his own route, he added fruits and vegetables to his offerings and eventually had 500 customers. “If someone wasn’t home, they left the door open, and I put the eggs in the fridge and locked the door,” he said. Later he worked as a government meat inspector for more than two decades.

After retiring from the government at 75, Loewenstein wanted to keep busy, so he turned to volunteering. He drove one of the meals-on-wheels routes himself until he was 95 and hung up his car keys, and now Loewenstein is a recipient of the meal service.

“He has a tremendous work ethic, and he always wants to do something to keep active,” said his son, Alan, who lives on Long Island. Clara died in 2014, just short of the couple’s 65th anniversary, and their daughter, Judy, died in 2017. He has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

During a recent hospital stay, Loewenstein told his son, “Bring me the calendar,” so he could make his phone calls to volunteers. “Everybody loves him, so when he calls, they say ‘yes,’” Alan said.

Loewenstein also works the phones to make sure there is a minyan every Monday and Thursday at Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, where he has been a member for 70 years. He has been president of the congregation, among other positions; occasionally led services in his younger days when the rabbi was absent; and is the only member who was twice selected as the synagogue’s Man of the Year.

He credits his mother for instilling in him a devotion to Judaism. “I have a love for the synagogue which is still there today,” he said. He attends services four days a week, with synagogue members taking turns driving him there. Neighbors take him to doctors’ appointments.

Loewenstein said congregants and friends often tell him, “I hope I’ll be like you when I’m 97.”

And when they ask him the secret of his longevity, he has a simple response:

I say, ‘Keep moving.’”

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