Pearl Berg: The Oldest Jewish Person in California?

August 21, 2019
Pearl Berg standing in her living room. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg

Pearl Berg is an avid reader, a current member of Temple Israel of Hollywood, likes to sew, and does intricate bead stringing. She will also turn 110 in a few months.  

Born in Pittsburgh, Berg moved to Los Angeles with her family in 1930. Her son, Robert Berg, told the Journal in a phone interview, “I would say she’s clearly one of the oldest people in California and we are not aware of an older Jewish person in California. She’s got to be among a small handful of the oldest Jews in the United States.” 

Berg became a member of Temple Israel in 1937 and continues to attend occasional services at the synagogue, usually during the High Holy Days. She was active in Temple Israel’s Sisterhood and was asked to write notes to bereaved families on behalf of the temple, which she continued to do until the age of 105. Temple Israel’s former rabbi, John Rosove, said that Berg was a member of his congregation for the entire 30 years he was there. 

“I blessed her at services every year since she was about 100 and, at 100 I said, ‘To 120,’ and [Berg responded], ‘Please God, no,’ and here she is, almost 110.”

Rosove described Berg as someone with “a great sense of humor. She was asked by a local television network when she turned 107, ‘How did you get to be 107?’ and she responded, ‘Well, first you have to get to be 106.’ 

“Every time I see her, she brings a smile to my heart, and she doesn’t complain about anything,” Rosove said. “If you ask her, ‘How are you?’ she says, ‘I’m 109, what do you think?’ She’s one of those favorite people that you come across from time to time [who] is somewhat ageless.”

“I blessed her at services every year since she was about 100 and at 100 I said, ‘To 120,’ and [Berg responded], ‘Please God, no.’ And here she is, almost 110.” — Rabbi John Rosove

During Rosove’s final service at Temple Israel, he acknowledged Berg and introduced her to the congregation as “the oldest member in the history of the Temple,” Robert recalled. “People came up to her afterward like she was some superstar.” 

Going to synagogue has become a natural part of Berg’s life. “I’ve always gone to temple since I was 10 or 11 years old,” she said. 

“[My mother] really resonates to the theme of compassion and love [in Judaism],” Robert said. “She’s been very supportive of charities her whole life and she’s been a peacemaker, in her family particularly. All those Old Testament values are very much ingrained in her.”

As a dedicated “homemaker” as Robert described her, “She cared deeply for [her ill husband]. She was just such a sparkling figure and such a good cook that her dinners for his business colleagues from around the country did probably more to get business than anything else.”

After Berg’s husband died in 1989, she carved out an active social life for herself by joining a book club, regularly attending concerts and plays and becoming more involved with a bridge group. 

“She was not celebrating her widowhood, she was just moving on in life,” Robert said. “One of her great abilities [is] to make friends and keep friends. As she got older, friends died and she had the ability into her hundreds to make new friends.”

Asked about her secret to living such a long life, Berg said:  “That is a question I have no answer for because you don’t have a secret for living. You just live.”

Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern.

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