16 over 61
Jewish tradition is filled with stories of individuals who take transformative journeys late in their lives. Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Miriam, and Naomi are just a few who make invaluable contributions at mature ages. Instead of diminishing, their relevance to their communities intensifies as they age.
The lessons we learn from today’s older adults are no less significant, and provided the inspiration for the creation of our Wechsler Center for Modern Aging last fall.
Given out in 2021, the 16 Over 61 Awards were a unique partnership between the JCC and the Forward, in which we spotlight the creativity, leadership, and initiative of adults who exemplify our collective values. We received more than 100 nominations from across the U.S. and Canada, representing a vast range of experience and backgrounds. A selection committee representing both organizations, as well as professionals and laypeople from diverse fields, chose the final 16. Meet the recipients here.
Matthew Baigell, 88
Gerald "Jerry" Cohen, 69
Barbara Finch, 83
Sonia Pressman Fuentes, 93
Arthur Grabiner, 95
Rabbi Joseph Hample, 64
Randee Haven-O'Donnell, 70
Dennis Klein, 72
Sylvia Lustgarten, 94
Muriel Mandell, 99
Noemi Masliah, 70
Ellen Ratner, 76
Stephen Rosen, 87
Dan Rothstein, 66
Zelda R. Stern, 72
Bill Wurtzel, 83
Our 16 Over 61 recipients, along with the other nominees, don’t let age define or stop them. “The point,” said one, “is to embrace and celebrate age wherever one is on the chronological scale. We have been granted a gift of longevity, and we must use that gift.” “Judaism instructs that our time on earth is a gift to ourselves and to all those whom we encounter,” shared another.
Those selected include rabbis, an artist, a musician, social justice advocates, a prison chaplain, educators, LGBTQIA+ activists, and the founder of a Jewish humor group. One had his second bar mitzvah at the age of 83. The youngest is 65; the oldest is 99. All are still active in their fields. What they have in common is a sense of purpose and the desire to leave the world a better place.
Selecting the final 16 was not an easy task. The impressive lifetime accomplishments of each of our nominees are worthy of recognition.
The JCC and the Forward are inspired by our entire community. We wholeheartedly agree with the words of the recipient who said, “To truly honor older persons in our society, we need to work together to elevate their standing, both in our consciousness and in our communities.”
Rabbi Joy Levitt, Chief Executive Officer, Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan
Jodi Rudoren, Editor-in-Chief, the Forward
Susan Lechter, Director, The Wechsler Center for Modern Aging