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World’s oldest Jew dies

LOS ANGELES — Pearl Berg, thought to be the oldest Jewish person in the world and the third oldest American, died on Feb. 1 in Los Angeles. She was 114.

Pearl Berg (aged 3) with her parents Archiebald and Anna (Gerson) Synenberg in 1913; at right, Berg in recent years. (Gerontology Research Group, Gerry Teitelbaum/Judy Taback)

At the time of her death, Berg was the ninth oldest living person in the world.

Another Jewish member of the supercentenarian study, Louise Levy, died last year in New York at 112.

There are no other Jews among the verified 50 oldest people in the world. But a Jewish sculptor named Morrie Markoff recently entered the supercentenarian club, turning 110 in January.

Berg, active in her local Hadassah chapter, was married for 58 years to Mark Berg, a businessman and investor. He died in 1989.

“She maybe had a sip of Sabbath wine but she didn’t drink, she didn’t smoke, she ate sensibly, she had good emotional balance and she clearly had remarkable genes,” Berg’s youngest son, Robert Berg, told the Los Angeles Times.

Berg was born Pearl Synenberg on Oct. 1, 1909, in Evansville, Ind. Her parents were aspiring photographers who joined a traveling vaudeville show.

That took them to New Orleans and Cleveland, before finally settling in Pittsburgh, where Berg was raised. She was confirmed at Rodef Shalom Congregation in that city and attended secretarial school.

In a tribute written on her 114th birthday, Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood, where Berg was a member, remembered that her parents, Archiebald and Anna (née Gerson) Synenberg, were “itinerant photographers” who traveled widely looking for work, and her father later ran a used car business.”

When that enterprise failed, and the stock market crashed in 1929, the family made its way to California in a McFarlan, a luxury car built until 1928 in Indiana.

Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, Berg met her husband, who she married in 1931. Mark Berg was a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine.

“Jewish life was always a priority in Pearl’s life,” wrote Rosove. “She and Mark joined Temple Israel of Hollywood in 1938 where they raised their sons Alan and Robert,” who survive her, as does a granddaughter, Belinda Berg.

“She was an avid supporter of Hadassah,” serving for two years as served as president of the Nordea chapter in Los Angeles, “and a lifelong supporter of the State of Israel.”

After the death of her husband, Berg joined a book club, regularly attended concerts and plays, and became more involved with a bridge group, according to the Gerontology Research Group, which studies “supercentenarians” and confirms their ages.

As a member of Temple Israel’s Sisterhood, she wrote “notes to bereaved families on behalf of the temple, which she continued to do until the age of 105,” according to the GRC.

She was a “force to be reckoned with,” Berg’s 83-year-old niece, Judy Taback, told the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

A longtime friend, Gerry Teitelbaum, described Berg as beautiful with good taste.

“She was short in height — but packed a wallop!” said Teitelbaum, who added that Berg was “very smart, very witty.”

Teitelbaum recounted that at Berg’s 110th birthday, when someone wished her “May you live to 120,” Berg laughed and said, “Oh, G-d — no!”

The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle contributed to this story.

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