All Bill Goldfischer needs to do is peek into the gan class at the YM-YWHA of Union County for the three- and four-year-olds to erupt in smiles.
“Uncle Bill, Uncle Bill!” they shout as they rush to him.
“These kids are so beautiful,” Goldfischer beams as he greets them before heading back to the Y kitchen to resume his regular tasks.
As the Y’s food services manager, he has a lot to do as he oversees preparation of some 300 meals each day for the school’s students and teachers and area seniors.
A number of individuals will be honored at the Y’s annual meeting on June 11, but perhaps none more enduring than Goldfischer, who has run the organization’s food service and purchasing operations for over two decades. He will be feted on the occasion of his 90th birthday, which will have occurred two days earlier, and will receive the Y’s prestigious Abraham Izak President’s Award in recognition of his years of service to the organization and community.
Talking to NJJN in his crowded office near the kitchen, Goldfischer said, “I do the ordering of everything here,” from paper goods and janitorial supplies to the food used to prepare those hundreds of meals — 150-200 daily for students and teachers, 70-90 meals-on-wheels to be delivered to area seniors by Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, and lunch in the dining room for the 15-20 seniors who arrive at 11:30 each morning and pay just $1.75 for the healthy fare. (The Y and JFS are both agencies of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.)
By all accounts, those daily meals — consisting of a variety of popular items like ziti, salmon, chicken, and beef casserole, vegetables or pasta on the side, and fresh fruit, salad, bread, and a beverage — are tasty and satisfying, but, Goldfischer insisted, “I’m not a cook; I’m more of a manager. I do all the purchasing and I seek out the best prices.”
Born in Czechoslovakia, Goldfischer came with his family to America in 1939 and settled in Brooklyn. “We were lucky to get out,” he said, “and lucky they let us in.” He served in the U.S. Army in World War II in such military theaters as Normandy and Okinawa. In 1947, he married his wife Hadassah; they had four children and now enjoy their many grandchildren and great-grandchildren — over 50 in all.
A resident of Elizabeth, where he has been a longtime member of the Jewish Educational Center, Goldfischer worked for many years in the garment industry in New Jersey before taking on the job at the Y.
It’s been an active and busy life, but Goldfischer is not one for a typical golden years slowdown — on any given weekday, he arrives at the Y at 6:30 a.m., sets out coffee, prepares the table for lunch, and proceeds to review menus, place orders, organize frozen foods, oversee kosher protocol, and otherwise ensure that operations are on track before closing the kitchen between 3 and 4 p.m.
Goldfischer’s job is officially part-time, said Jani Jonas, the Y’s assistant executive director and dietitian, “but the extra time he gives amounts to at least 50 hours a week of work, and he is often here on Sundays and at night to check on food. He’s truly a community role model.”
“He’s a good guy and he likes to be in charge,” agreed Y cook and longtime colleague and friend Zulma Feliciano. Kitchen coworkers and food service volunteers Irwin Bruck, 75, of Elizabeth and Edwin Michaelis, 91, of West Orange agreed that Goldfischer is an icon at the Y and a force to be reckoned with.
In addition to his managerial role at the Y, Goldfischer has been a member for over 20 years. “Bill is a great example of someone who both works here and actively participates in Y events and is part of our building blocks,” said Jonas. “Bill is the Y, and we all love him like a grandfather.”
The upbeat nonagenarian said the first ingredient in his recipe for a long and active life can be found where he works, in the kitchen: “Eat right,” he said, and “exercise, stay healthy, and above all, don’t retire.”
“I can’t sit around,” said Goldfischer. “When you get older, you’ve got to stay busy, and there are a lot of things to do here. I thank the lord that I’m healthy and can do things, and I’m always on the go.