Every year, publications and organizations honor people at the top of their fields by naming them among the “30 under 30” or “40 under 40.” But for the past four years, The New Jewish Home—a Manhattan nonprofit providing care for older New Yorkers of all religions—has skewed its honors older, with its “Eight over 80” gala.
This year’s event took place last week at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel overlooking Central Park. It honored fashion icon Iris Apfel (95), dancer Carmen de Lavallade (86), attorney and civil-rights leader Vernon Jordan (81), TV producer and comedy legend Norman Lear (94), businessman and philanthropist Morris W. Offit (80), celebrity chef Jacques Pépin (81), and philanthropists Barbara and Donald Tober (82 and 85 respectively).
Aside from Lear, all the honorees were in attendance at the event celebrating “a cumulative 650-plus years of life,” according to Dr. Jon LaPook, the night’s emcee and Lear’s son-in-law. The gala, which served glatt kosher food and raised over $1 million for the home’s services for Jews and non-Jews alike, had as its theme, “What It Means to Age like a New Yorker.”
Lear spoke to the audience of 430 guests via video, where he mentioned that he’d completed a comedy called “Guess Who Died?” about life in a senior-living facility.
Guests also watched charming videos that further enlightened them about the life of each honoree.
Apfel talked about her love of fashion, looking unique and collecting costume jewelry. Unsurprisingly, she was decked out in stacked necklaces and bracelets and her signature black glasses.
Lavallade spoke about slowing down and blooming later in life.
Jordan told a story about the racism he faced as a driver for the head of a bank in Atlanta, as well as a later moment of pride when the person who had treated him poorly saw how far he’d come.
In his video, Offit joined his two sons in his office for a heartwarming discussion about his life and work.
Jacques Pépin spoke of his culinary career and of learning how to cook without refrigeration in France.
The Tobers discussed their life’s work: Donald is chairman and CEO of Sugar Foods Corporation; Barbara was a longtime editor-in-chief at Brides magazine. The couple spoke about how much they like to stay active. The producers included shots of framed photos the couple have all over their Park Avenue apartment showing them with prominent people. (The shot of a photo of Donald Trump drew audible groans from the crowd.)
Audrey Weiner, president and CEO of The New Jewish Home, called the evening’s honorees “eight unstoppable forces of nature.” And while the night celebrated some undeniably active octogenarians (and in Apfel and Lear’s cases, nonagenarians), it wasn’t lost on the crowd that they were there to benefit those who are less fortunate.
The New Jewish Home—which provides care to 13,000 people across New York City, Rockland County, Westchester and Long Island—uses new approaches to elder care that are “true to our Jewish values and build upon a foundation of making elders feel at home,” according to the organization. There are many different services, including rehabilitation, nursing-home facilities, a variety of senior housing options and home care.
The New Jewish Home is one of 14 founding agencies of UJA-Federation still in existence today. At the gala, UJA also marked its centennial anniversary. In that vein, Tami J. Schneider, a board member of The New Jewish Home, mentioned that there are 149 people aged 100 and over in The New Jewish Home’s community.
Offit, who was joined at the event by his children and grandchildren, noted that at 80, he’s more involved than ever in business and philanthropy.
“There are so many different ways to express yourself, especially in the Jewish world. The need was never greater than it is today,” he said.
As such, he makes it a point to “go out and raise some money, all for very good causes,” he continued. One philanthropic project on which he’s been focusing lately is a museum in Philadelphia called the Museum of the American Revolution, which will open next week.
“It’s a magnificent new museum and it’s right around the corner from the National Museum of American Jewish History. You’re going to be hearing a lot about it,” he said.
Offit asserted that he loves getting older in New York City.
“We partake in everything. That’s the richness of New York,” he said.
And Barbara Tober wholeheartedly agreed.
“We glory in everything New York has to offer us. We go out every night, and we work all day. We are completely involved in everything that’s going on. We go to the ballet, the opera, the movies, theatrical events, galas that we’re interested in and that concern friends of ours, and then sometimes we just go to a restaurant that we love to relax,” she said.
New York is a wonderful place to get older, she said, because “it’s a cultural paradise. All these people who go hide themselves down south are not understanding that if you keep your brain alive and keep solving problems…it keeps you younger and more vibrant than anything else.”