Australia’s Oldest Jew to Turn 110

February 25, 2011 Agencies
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Australia’s oldest Jew, who lived half her life in England and made hats for the Royal Family, will celebrate her 110th birthday next weekend.

Helene Joseph, Mary Rothstein and Ruth Cavallaro - 2008

But Mary Rothstein’s actual birth date is unconfirmed; she doesn’t have a birth certificate because her family escaped Russia for London soon after she was born in 1901.

In fact, until this year, her family in Melbourne had celebrated Mrs Rothstein’s birthday on February 27 each year because she had told her daughter, Ruth Cavallaro, that she was born on Purim in 1901 and that fell around February 27 more than a century ago.

But earlier this year, Mrs Cavallaro was contacted by Helene Joseph, a long-lost cousin in London who is married to Dr Anthony Joseph, the head of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain.

“It was only when Anthony looked it up a couple of days ago that we found out the real date for Purim 1901 was March 6,” Mrs Joseph said.

Mrs Cavallaro said this week: “When Anthony confirmed that her birthday was March 6, I got such a shock.”

So next weekend, Mrs Rothstein’s daughter, two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren will gather at the nursing home run by Jewish Care in Melbourne to celebrate the historic milestone.

“She was a milliner and was sent to Paris twice a year to get the fashions. In the 1940s and ’50s she made hats for the Royal Family,” Mrs Cavallaro said.

She came to Australia in 1957 for a holiday and returned to live here in 1959, working at Myer department store until she was 70 because “she never told them her right age”.

Now, Mrs Cavallaro visits her mother twice a day, to give her lunch and dinner. “She’s never eaten in an ordinary restaurant, only a Jewish restaurant. She’s very, very kosher.”

Mrs Cavallaro said her mother used to walk to synagogue every Saturday until she was moved into an aged-care facility 17 years ago.

“Some days she’s good and some days not so good,” she said.

As for her secret to long life, Mrs Rothstein’s daughter said: “The only thing I can honestly say about her is she’s never drunk, never smoked and worked very hard.”

She added: “I’ve got nothing to prove she’s 110. But her younger sister Dora always said she was 15 years younger than my mother and she died last December aged 95.”

Mrs Rothstein is not the oldest Jew in the world, according to Robert Young, a senior researcher at the US-based Gerontology Research Group, which specialises in verifying centenarians and super-centenarians.

“The oldest verified Jewish person is currently Evelyn Kozak of New York City, [who was] born August 14, 1899,” he said in an email.

“I can’t understand why I’ve lived so long,” Mrs Rothstein was quoted as saying by Jewish media on her 106th birthday. “It doesn’t seem possible.”


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