More than 280 people packed the Soldiers and Sailors banquet hall in Oakland, Thursday, June 2, to celebrate Eight Over 80, which honored eight members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community who, in their more than 80 years, have contributed greatly.
The event raised over $100,000 for the Jewish Association on Aging, to “enhance the lives of the Greatest Generation we serve,” said Beverly Brinn, JAA’s director of development. Each of the honorees in this year’s class assisted in U.S. war efforts, ranging from Code Gomberg’s service as a medic in World War II to Ruth Rudoy’s time sorting mail in the Navy.
This year’s honorees included Milton Eisner, Elliott Kramer, Ed Landerman, Earl Latterman, Charlotte Love, Dr. Cyril Wecht, Gomberg and Rudoy.
The event was the highest-grossing Eight Over 80 yet.
“We believe it was a wonderful tribute to our honorees and our agency,” said Brinn. “They honored us by agreeing to be honored and by helping us raise critical funds so that we can continue to provide necessary advocacy and services for our senior community.”
KDKA anchor Ken Rice emceed the evening, opening with riffs about the event.
“Eight is the number of people under 80 who voted in the last local election. And apologies to the honoree who was cut from the list at the last minute. Itwould’ve made tonight nine over 80, and the organizers decided eight was enough,” he joked. “OK, these are not all going to be gems.”
After Temple Sinai soloist Sara Stock Mayo sang the national anthem and “Hatikva,” JAA Director of Pastoral Care Rabbi Eli Seidman spoke. “[The honorees] have blessed us, and continue to bless us,” he said. “Tonight, we celebrate their achievements and longevity,” he then gave gave a shehekianu.
Rice spoke of the night’s kosher wine raffle “It ain’t Manischewitz,” he said. “This is the good stuff.”
The crowd then settled in to watch videos of each of the honorees. Some honorees chose to recount their military service time in the videos; some expressed their love for community.
“A lot of people call me a professional volunteer, which I love,” said Eisner.
Gomberg’s video showed him recalling the day his unit stumbled upon Buchenwald just after the camp had been liberated.
“All the time we were in Europe, we had never heard the word ‘concentration camp,’ ” he said. When his unit happened upon a large, barbed-wired compound, Gomberg asked if he could explore. “There was an odor coming out of there that made me run out,” he said.
“People asked me how could I be a Jew treating a German soldier,” Gomberg recalled. “I figure, he didn’t want to be on that field just like I didn’t want to be there.”
Love spoke of the quality that has carried her through more than 80 years: “It’s your attitude that counts,” she said. “I’m in my 80’s, but I’m going on 16.”
Wecht, who was a captain in the Air Force Medical Corps before becoming a forensic pathologist, offered some humbling words.
“I want to be around forever, but at the same time, I’m happy I lived when I did,” he said. “And my advice to young people: don’t get so caught up with the cell phones and Facebooks and Twitters that you forget what it is to be a warm, gracious human being.”
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(Justin Jacobs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)