Local centenarians proudly reflect on their lives and have plenty of advice on how to live to 100 and beyond.
Helen Mermelstein-Weiss was born May 1, 1922 in Czechoslovakia and now lives in the independent living section of RiverSpring Living where she has her own kitchen, living area, bedroom, and bathroom all at the age of 101.
Her home is decorated with bits and pieces she’s collected over time. A cluster of large-scale paintings adorn the wall, some of which were painted and gifted to her by her daughter-in-law. Every other available space is covered in photos of her family. Smiling faces of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren are interrupted by small stacks of books. Weiss’s windowsill is entirely covered in plants.
Having survived the Holocaust and concentration camps during World War II, she thought back about her childhood. She lived a good life until Hitler came. She lived with her mother and her five siblings in a very close family. She still remembers the day her youngest sister was born when she was 12.
When the war started Weiss was able to hide in the home of a Catholic dentist. She received fake papers, a new name, and a fake birth certificate that helped her for a time.
“It’s almost like a miracle. Life was so unsafe and unsure that you never thought that you’d make it through the war,” said Weiss. She shakes her head in disbelief at the fact that she managed to survive the war and still make it to the age of 101.
During the war, Weiss was caught with her fake papers at age 22 and was sent to a concentration camp for a short time before the war ended.
When asked about her advice to others, she spoke sternly about needing to be ready and willing for change.
She came to America on a Swedish ship in 1948 and shortly after began her life with her sons in Brooklyn.
“They are very good boys,” she said of her sons. She spoke proudly of them as she talked about their paths into the medical field. She said they always ask if she’s walking and moving around.
Weiss is a lively centenarian, attending lectures at RiverSpring. She religiously reads the New York Times large print subscription her daughter-in-law gifted her. She can even touch her toes and giggled as she stood up from the table to prove it.
Her family is a tremendous portion of her life with six grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren that she has pictures of all over her living space.
“I feel like I almost have an obligation to tell the world that people should not hate each other,” Weiss said. “People should be kind and good to each other. It would be a different world.”
Weiss practices what she preaches too. Two years ago after the outbreak of the Russian war in Ukraine, alongside other RiverSpring and Hebrew Home residents she protested outside of the Russian mission compound on Mosholu Avenue.
Her parting message to others was, “don’t hate, be kind to people, try to help where you can.”
Frida Natt’s story
Frida Natt is a Hebrew Home resident born on April 21, 1923.
She grew up in the Bronx and said she had a great childhood until her mother fell ill when she was about 3 years old. She spoke sadly of her mother’s illness that eventually led to her death. Her father later remarried but she made clear her stepmother was lovely to her, unlike works of fiction.
After she married her second husband she had two sons and a daughter. Her daughter later passed from breast cancer.
“A blind date? Do they still have these things?” Natt said of her neighbor introducing her to her second husband.
After meeting her second husband she moved to Riverdale where they raised their children.
“I can’t change anything, I wouldn’t want to,” Natt said of her life.
She misses the regimen of a job, getting up to eat breakfast and then leave the house with somewhere to go. However, she credits a life of hard work for her ability to now finally sit down and rest.
“I loved when I got my check,” Natt said about her job. She was a secretary, working for an attorney and then a synagogue. That was a position that let her always be around people, which she also loved.
Things are different now.
“I spend my days looking forward to eating Cream of Wheat,” she said laughing after being asked how she spends her days at the Hebrew Home.
When she isn’t stalking the cafeteria for cream of wheat, she can be found watching “Family Feud,” she insisted it’s her favorite part of the day.
Natt lives in the long-term care portion of the facility where she is tended to often. The facility holds countless events for residents to participate. She isn’t big on attending group events but lit up when she spoke about the musical concerts the living facility occasionally holds. She said that music is music and she enjoys it all.
Natt’s only advice to those younger is that they provide for themselves in their old age. She sternly repeated the sentiment of putting away money.
Lesley Semel, social media manager for RiverSpring Living, said the goal of the facility is to allow all of its residents to live the rest of their lives out with dignity and care.
National Centenarian’s Day is a day that RiverSpring Living takes very seriously. Celebrated on Sept. 22.