By Ariel Gold and Harry Rappaport
On a recent Saturday night in the Kilmer Mansion of Temple Concord, despite a raging pandemic and a fraught election, our family came together to celebrate. It’s not often that someone reaches the age of 100, but on October 23, Elizabeth Rappaport did.
Our mother/grandmother/great-grandmother is the poster child of longevity. Referred to as Lib, she lives independently in a two-story house. Although our sister/mother Glenna lives with her, it is only because Lib cannot drive anymore due to glaucoma. Lib still cooks and cleans for herself, takes a daily walk, gardens and goes up and down the slat wooden stairs to her basement to do laundry. If you ask Lib what the secret is to her health, she will frequently joke that it must be the gin and tonic she likes sometimes in the evenings.
Born in Plattsburgh, NY, to Harry and Eva Gold, Lib is the last surviving member of eight siblings. Harry emigrated to America from Russia at the turn of the century and was followed shortly after by his wife, Eva, and their first two children, Rachael and Abraham. Harry and Eva settled in Plattsburg where Harry, a deeply religious man, worked as a tailor at the Army base.
Among the family stories we relayed on Saturday night was the tale of Rachael’s marriage. While Rachael chose a wonderful and kind man to be her husband, he wasn’t Jewish and so her father, in the Jewish tradition of the time, disowned her, going so far as to sit shiva as though she had died. But Lib’s mother didn’t feel the same way as her husband and protested. She snuck Rachel in through the back door of the house until eventually Harry relented and Rachael was brought back into the family.
Lib tells us often that her favorite childhood memories are the summers she spent in South Hero, VT, on the farm that Rachael ran with her husband, Robert DuBuque. Today, we are proud to be a family filled with interfaith relationships and multiple racial identities. These are the values that our family inherited from Rachel’s experience and from the unconditional love that Lib taught us.
After Lib’s father died when she 9 years old, her older brother, Abe, moved the family to Binghamton where he worked as a lawyer, later to become a New York state Supreme Court justice.
After high school, Lib attended New York University, earning her bachelor’s degree in elementary education. While in college, her sister, Esther, suggested that Lib try out a date with her boyfriend’s brother, Joe. The date was set up, but, when the day arrived, being shy and having only dated non-Jewish girls so far in his life, Joe got cold feet. He called Lib to cancel, but Lib told him “no way.” He followed through and they soon found themselves in love.
Despite Joe being Jewish, Lib knew that her family wouldn’t approve of their marriage and didn’t give her their permission to marry him. However, just like Lib’s mother hadn’t accepted her daughter being kicked out of the family and just as Lib hadn’t accepted Joe’s attempt to cancel their first date, Lib followed her heart and didn’t take her family’s “no.” Lib and Joe married in secret on September 17, 1942, in Goldsboro, NC, at the Army base where Joe was stationed. The rabbi who married them, Rabbi Alexander Goode, became famous posthumously for being one of four Army chaplains to give up their life jackets when their liner, The Dorchester, was sunk by a German submarine in the North Atlantic. There is a memorial in Washington, DC, to the four chaplains.
Known for her chutzpah (audacity), Lib once locked Joe out of the house when he failed to bring her flowers as she had asked. Joe attempted to go sleep at his mother’s house, but she chased him away with a broom, insisting that he go buy his wife the flowers. Having learned his lesson, Joe returned home with both flowers and three pounds of See’s candies! Joe died in 2011 after 69 wonderful, loving years of marriage. Though he has been gone for almost 10 years, Lib frequently still talks to him at night, telling him how much she misses him and how lucky she was to have him.
Lib’s core beliefs are to love and stay close with family. At various times during her married life, family members – her mother, sister, nephew and several grandchildren (including co-author Ariel Gold) – came to live with her. For many years, Lib used to take several younger friends grocery shopping.
As Lib got closer and closer to her 100th birthday, she became more and more excited that she would get to celebrate with her two children, five grandchildren, six great-grandkids, her favorite nephew, David, and his wife, Carla, and more. Many more family members were able to join through Zoom. Lib said that she was so lucky to have us celebrate her, but by having her in our lives – 100 years old and still going strong – it is really us who are the lucky ones!
Harry Rappaport is Elizabeth’s son. He lives in Weatogue, CT, with his wife, Karyl. Ariel Gold, Elizabeth’s granddaughter, lives in Ithaca with her teenage children, Elijah and Isabella. They are members of Congregation Tikkun v’Or.