I celebrated with Pearl Berg’s family and friends today, October 1, 2023, Pearl’s her 114th birthday. Pearl is now the 10th oldest living human being in the world – the 3rd oldest living American – and the oldest living Jew in the world – born on October 1, 1909 in the State of Indiana in the American mid-west.
I have written about Pearl several times over the years. She is a long-time member of my congregation, Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles.
Pearl is a marvel not only because of her extreme old age, but because she remains a positive and kind woman who welcomes graciously all visitors. In seeing her today, though her eyes were closed, when I asked if she could hear me, she nodded affirmatively.
My connection with Pearl and her family precedes my birth. Pearl’s husband Mark (z’l) employed my mother in the early 1940s as an office worker in his Los Angeles scrap metal business when my mother was 25 years-old. When Mark died 37 years ago and I prepared my eulogy for him, my mother told me that Mark was the kindest of bosses. When she departed from his business to volunteer at an army base in San Luis Obispo, California during World War II, Mark gave her a going-away office party. She never forgot it.
Pearl’s parents were itinerant photographers, traveling throughout the Midwest and South by train from city to city as they sought opportunities for work. In the summer months they worked in the North. From Indiana, they moved to Canton, Ohio and then to Pittsburgh where they joined the large Reform synagogue, Rodef Shalom, where Pearl was confirmed in 1926. An excellent student but with few professional opportunities for young women, Pearl enrolled at a secretarial school in Pittsburgh and easily got a job upon graduation.
When Pearl’s father’s used car business failed during the Great Depression, her family moved to Los Angeles. After a week in LA, Pearl met the love of her life, Mark, on a blind date. Mark was smitten at first sight, and that evening he told his mother that he met the girl he was going to marry. Pearl and Mark were married on November 15, 1931 in Boyle Heights at the home of the rabbi of the local shul.
Jewish life was always a priority in Pearl’s life. She and Mark joined Temple Israel of Hollywood in 1938 where they raised their sons Alan and Robert. She was an avid supporter of Hadassah over eight decades and a life-long supporter of the State of Israel.
When I offered a blessing for Pearl at her 110th birthday, I added the traditional “to 120!” She quipped: “Please God ‘NO!’”
Well, Pearl – the Eternal One seems to have other plans for you.
Happy Birthday and with love – to 120!
For a list of the oldest recorded living humans in the world, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_living_people