Gloria Eisenberg has vivid memories of her youth in Russia. She remembers the small town she first lived in before the White Volunteer Army troops entered her house during the anti-Jewish pogroms. Along with her mother and siblings, Eisenberg was robbed of her belongings and evicted from her home, with nowhere to go. Earlier, her father had moved to America, and she didn’t remember him.
The family fled to a Kiev synagogue, sleeping on the basement floor with many other Jews who had also been forced from their homes. When she talks about the filth and all the bugs there, she can’t help but start scratching. And when she recounts how her mother died of typhoid fever, right there on the synagogue floor, she can’t help but wonder how she survived.
But survive and thrive she did, and just last month Eisenberg celebrated her 104th birthday among her friends at the Jewish Council for the Aging’s Misler Adult Day Center in Rockville, Maryland. She spends two days a week there, participating in games, going on field trips, socializing with friends, and eating lunch with her fellow participants who have physical, cognitive, or emotional challenges.
She lives with her son and daughter-in-law, enjoying her four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren and playing the piano, something she has done most of her life, although she only briefly took lessons.
When asked about her love of music, the centenarian, whose birth name is Ogla Morgalevich, immediately begins singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” She often sits down to play at the first piano she sees, but is quick to explain she plays by ear and isn’t so good with reading the notes.
Gloria came to America when she was about 14, aboard a ship where she knew no one. She landed in New York, unable to speak any English.
Her mother, Fanya Morgalevich, died when she was a child, and Eisenberg lived in a few orphanages until her father, Aaron Morgalevich, sent money for her to come to America. Her older sister chose to remain in Russia and was a proud Communist her entire life, according to Eisenberg.
Her father, who had remarried, sent his wife’s relative and a friend to meet her in New York and bring her back to DC. She ended up marrying the friend, a recent immigrant from Poland. The pair married on Oct. 31, 1932, and moved into an apartment atop a bakery in the Petworth neighborhood of Northwest Washington, where they raised two sons and attended Beth Shalom Congregation.
Her husband, Joe, was a wallpaper hanger and a taxi driver, and she worked in women’s sportswear at a Lansburgh’s Department Store for at least 10 years. She cooked the family’s meals and for the Jewish holidays until she was 98 years old. She only slowed down when blurry vision made it too difficult to read the display on her microwave oven. Her favorite foods are gefilte fish and macaroni and cheese.
When asked her secret to longevity, she laughs. “I have no secret. I believe in G-d. If it wasn’t for G-d, where would I be?”
By Suzanne Pollak
Suzanne Pollak is the senior writer/editor at the Jewish Council for the Aging of Greater Washington. She was a reporter at The Courier Post in New Jersey and The Washington Jewish Week, and she now writes for The Montgomery Sentinel.